Residents protest potential statewide budget cuts

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

Amidst the looming threat of an Illinois government shutdown due to the inability of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic legislature to compromise on the state budget, protesters gathered outside the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., on July 1 to express their disapproval of Rauner’s proposed statewide budget cuts.

Approximately 400 protesters gathered outside the center holding signs and chanting, “Sí se puede,” and, “Tax the rich” in response to Rauner’s proposed budget, which included hefty cuts in social programs  and was subsequently rejected by the General Assembly.

Since the 2016 fiscal year started July 1 with no budget in place, many interests are seeking a compromise to prevent a government shutdown. Democrats pushed for a one-month budget plan, but in downtown Chicago, protesters were asking for much more.

Rauner’s budget reductions could affect service organizations, educational programs and services for the elderly, whose advocates were represented at the protest, which was organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Mojeed Lawal, an alumnus of the Greater West Town Training Partnership, a program in the West Town neighborhood that helps under-privileged individuals gain educational and economic opportunities in the workforce, attended the protest and said Rauner’s proposed budget would be bad for Chicago’s community.

Lawal said he wanted to share how the program has benefited him and lobby for its success.

“I want it to give [opportunities to] other people who are after the same grind,” grind? Maybe goal? Lawal said. “[People] whose doors aren’t really open to opportunities…that’s what it really gave me.”

Danjuma Gaskin, a Hyde Park resident who also participated in the Greater West Town Training Partnership and now works there as a production aide, said a lot of the public funding the program receives goes toward providing training to its participants.

“If that’s cut, there is a good chance the program will no longer exist,” Gaskin said.

Lawal echoed the sentiment, saying the program is in danger of being terminated.

“It has given me a way out,” Lawal said.  “The moral fiber of Chicago is the community, and if that moral fiber is taken away by these budget cuts, that takes away our last defense system.”

Sirley Sabias, a substitute teacher at Homegroup Daycare, brought her children with her to protest reductions to daycare.

The proposed cuts would not allow her to keep working in her current position, Sabias said. The cuts would also make parents of children older than 6 pay for daycare services.

“Moms need to go to work,” she said. “Many families rely on daycare and could lose it if staff were cut.”

Kenny Woods, a member of Healthcare Alternative Systems, Inc., said he also protested in support of his organization. Woods said he lives in transitional housing on the South Side, which is sponsored by the agency. He said the reductions could affect the organization’s housing budget. He added that the program has helped him and he wants to “keep it for the men behind [him].”

Lawal, the alumnus of Greater West Town Training Partnership, said funding for jobs programs is “the life and blood of Chicago. If that’s taken away, I am sorry for us.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.