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Budget follies: message and audience

As friends at social service agencies are getting set to layoff staff in the coming weeks and organizing rallies in the hope that they can stop it, we get the sense of the limits of the power of effective communication.

The situation, which calls to mind the phrase “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” is that governor and Legislature are at a standstill in fixing problems a long time in the making. Governor Pat Quinn says the current budget “creates a $9.2 billion dollar funding gap and forces deep and distressing cuts to our vital social service agencies” on his home page. Rich Miller’s authoritative Capitol Fax (fair warning, if you haven’t been following along, you may have to spend 15 minutes or so reading to get a sense of what’s going on in springfield) documents that legislators feel Rod Blagojevich’s replacement has done a less than stellar job of convincing them to support his income-tax increase solution.That’s the simplistic (maybe overly so) sum-up of the situation.

The news coverage has been good, as a recent google news search shows. Some favorite columnists such as Mary Schmich and Phil Kadner, have both had nice stories on local rallies, for example. (Mary’s story ends with a great quote from a picket sign: “the state budget is a bigger mess than my room.”)

Agencies have done a great job of finding folks with devastating stories of the impact of their agencies’ care as for example witness this story in the Champaign News- Gazette.

The blog search is compelling, too:

  • Your Funeral Guy reports that “In perhaps one of  their the  most disrespectful acts ever the State of Illinois has cut funeral benefits to the poor by 100%. These are medicaid payments in Illinois for funerals and burials. That’s “10,000 folks a year at the cost of $15 million.”  (Source, BTW, is the State Journal Register).
  • The new budget “contains NO money for specialized epilepsy care services, such as the kind currently being offered by Epilepsy Foundation affiliates across Illinois… dramatic program cuts, including those which provide medical, social, and support services to the over 129,000 people with epilepsy in Illinois.” according to the Green Lantern Spotlight (usually I think he writes about comic books)
  • Lifelube, in a call for last week’s Thompson Center rally, notes that “Budget cuts mean the loss of homecare workers for 40,000 seniors and persons with disabilities, and the loss of more than 100,000 jobs” and “80,000 low-income working mothers will lose childcare.”
  • “More than 10,000 state employees face layoffs unless the state can find a way to close its budget gap by cutting costs in other ways and raising taxes,” according to the Layoff Tracker
  • Others made the point that programs which emphasize prevention and saving money will be cut, causing the state to pay more later; one example is from the TASC Public Policy Blog: “TASC’s Recovery Coach program for parents, offered under the leadership of the llinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), has been enormously successful, saving the state more than $5 million over a 5-year period. However, this program too faces elimination under the FY10 state budget as it stands.”
  • Pediatric Health Associates, a private practice in the western suburbs, advised folks to attend the DuPage county rally last week: “Hesed House which provides shelter for the homeless will be forced to turn people away to sleep out in the elements. Mutual Ground, a domestic violence service provider in Aurora will shut its battered women’s shelter and reduce other services to rape and domestic violence victims,” bloggers for the practice noted.
  • Finally, the YWCA says simply “More than 116,000 abused women, children and families will no longer have access to rape crisis services” as of July 1 if the budget passes.

Ultimately, it’s all about audience. In this case, the 177 legislators and the governor who have some decisions to make.

It might not be a bad idea to help make up their minds with a quick phone call, email, or comment. A new session starts Monday, June 23, so try them in their Springfield office.

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Category: Messaging & Framing, Web Stuff

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