Stretched Thin: Human Services Fade As State Standoff Continues | WGLT

Stretched Thin: Human Services Fade As State Standoff Continues

May 2, 2016

Peter Rankaitis (r) accepting a national award from the FBI in 2010
Credit FBI

Editors Note:  Stretched Thin is an ongoing series of interviews with those managing social service agencies through an unprecedented state budget stalemate.

The state budget crisis is eroding social service agencies. The political standoff over Governor Rauner's turnaround agenda is also reshaping the way the state functions in unintended and potentially long lasting ways.

That's according to Peter Rankaitis, the Director of Project Oz in Bloomington. Rankaitis said as agencies cut staff and programs to survive, a brain drain is happening.

"A lot of the young really smart staff who are getting into human services are leaving. They are saying this is not a field for us because there is no stability. There's no support for our political leaders, Rankaitis said.

Rankaitis said cuts in services to the homeless will also stress communities and businesses. He said there will be an increase in the number of people hanging around on the streets and a bigger burden on the legal system, which will be very expensive for cities and towns.

"When they are out on the streets they are going to survive in ways that are not helpful to anyone. We are already seeing young people engaging in survival sex as just one way to eat and have a place to stay," said Rankaitis

Rankaitis said he knows of at least four central Illinois agencies that have cut crisis services to homeless young people and runaways.

"When this is finally resolved, assuming that we do, what are we left with? We're going to have to rebuild employment, retrain new staff. It's going to be really tough," said Rankaitis.

Rankaitis says it will take years to rebuild staff and programs even after the state approves a budget. Project Oz is a not-for-profit human service agency that has been serving youth and their families in McLean County for over 35 years.

"We're losing about 25,000 dollars a month or I should say we're loaning the state in effect because that's what we're spending for crisis services and homeless youth of which the state currently has no ability to pay us for those services," said Rankaitis.
Rankaitis says Project Oz could lose three full time direct service staff members if the budget is not resolved by the end of June.

"It's like new territory that we have never really encountered before. I mean, we've had to make some cuts. But, we've never been this financially devastated so quickly. We're very worried, very stressed, and we're not exactly sure how to respond," said Rankaitis.

Rankaitis said Project Oz serves about 150 homeless teens per year or an average of more than one every three days with crisis services to divert them from poor family situations to to keep them out of the more expensive DFCS system.