Photo by Dermot Connolly
State Representative Mary Flowers and Senator Daniel Biss, at the CEDA office in Oak Lawn, criticized moves by Gov. Rauner that they say are hurting women and children.
"A new low."
Those are a couple of sharp descriptions a state senator called Gov. Bruce Rauner's actions to hold up funds that could affect mother's and children.
Two state legislators, with Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County officials and local families spoke at a press conference at the CEDA/Women Infants and Children food progam office in Oak Lawn on July 31 about the importance of restoring funding to the programs that parents and young children depend on.
Margaret Saunders, who oversees the WIC program, said 48,000 mothers and children depend on the WIC vouchers for milk, cereal, peanut butter, bread and other healthy staples. She said that although the program for low-income mothers and children up to four years old is federally funded, it has become a pawn in the wrangling over the state budget crisis in Springfield because the program is coordinated through state agencies.
While the officials said the money being held up to run the program amounts to about $26 million, Saunders said that studies have shown that the WIC program has actually saved the state much more than that in healthcare costs because WIC families maintain their health better.
“We’re talking about a new low here,” said state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-9th). “Literally the care for almost 50,000 women and children is being put in jeopardy. “It is unconscionable that this program will have to begin winding down if legislation is not passed (this week) to keep it open.”
“The human consequences of the stalemate are beyond debate,” he added.
“This is not costing the state of Illinois a penny,” said state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), in whose district Oak Lawn CEDA/WIC office is located. “In fact, it is adding money to the state,” she said, asserting that the program generates $125,000 a week for stores and other businesses where WIC families shop.
Flowers said she would like to see Rauner investigated for his actions, pointing out that he vetoed a bill that would have provided the “pass-through” funding needed by the state to operate the federally funded programs.
She and Biss said the governor is holding up the funding, and refusing to deal with the budget crisis in general, until the Legislature passes a series of bills hed wants that deal with issues like tort reform, workers compensation, and other issues mainly targeting unions.
“These are not budgetary issues,” she said.
“I am not a politician so I am not going to get into Republican and Democrat, but this is about human lives,” said Harold Rice, the president and CEO of CEDA He said that CEDA did not receive any funding in July, due to the budget crisis, and by this week, if the necessary pass-through legislation was not passed to free up the federal funds, “I will have to make some unfortunate decisions.”
He pointed out that a program assisting struggling families with utility bills has already been suspended, and employees laid off. Next to be cut will be the WIC program, he said.
“We’re at the point of shutting down. It is imperative to end this travesty. They are negotiating over lives here.” he said.
Jerry and Ariadna Bosch of Evergreen Park, with their son, Timothy, 3, listened to the officials with some concern.
“It would affect our food budget a lot if this WIC program was cut,” said Jerry Bosch, explaining that they also have a five-year-old son, who is no longer covered by it. “Many people who are not making a lot of money need it,” said his wife.
A native of Panama, Ariadna said people there would be marching in the streets of her home country if programs like WIC were eliminated.
“Minimum wage is not enough to support a family. Programs like this are really needed,” said Mariana Mendez, a single mother with three children.
Sarah Post of Oak Lawn, who is expecting her second child, was there with her 11-month-old son, Julian. She explained that Julian, who is underweight, has a deficiency that requires special food.
“It would be very difficult,” she said, when Flowers asked if she would be able to afford her son’s food without WIC.
“See, here is a boy with special needs. Why should he be damaged because people in Springfield cannot agree? This is unacceptable. The governor should really be ashamed of himself.” Flowers said.
Lashandra Gholar, of the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, was also there with her young daughters, Makayla, 1, and Makenzie, 5.
“This program really helps us get healthy food,” said Gholar. She said the program allowed her to keep a supply of eggs, which Makenzie really likes.
“Hopefully, we can work together and sort this out,” said Flowers, who was hoping to vote on a new bill to provide the funds this week. “WIC is essential.”