By Melissa Leu Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Political advertisements bashing Illinois’ likely budget cuts to child care and home care services could be backfiring.
The Services Employees International Union for Healthcare in Illinois and Indiana has been placing television and radio advertisements throughout the state, hoping to deter lawmakers from cutting dollars for child care and home care services for the elderly.
“These ads are really about educating the public and educating lawmakers about the importance of these programs and the critical role that they play in providing family support and care for tens of thousands of Illinois families,” said Brynn Seibert, spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare.
In a recently released SEIU radio advertisement, the organization features a participant of the Illinois Home Service Program saying that even if funding disappears, his disability won’t. In a TV spot, a working couple from Joliet talks about the need for the state’s child care assistance program. The advertisement ends by urging viewers to tell state legislators to avoid cuts to child care.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said advocacy groups typically create media campaigns to encourage the public to lobby their lawmakers.
“(But) because it's so removed from the outcomes, groups are usually reluctant to take that kind of effort, to put those resources in that kind of effort, when it's much more direct for them to send their lobbyists over to talk to a public official,” Morrison said.
These messages also sometimes lose focus on the bigger picture.
“Advocacy groups are often times providing information in a way that is advantageous to their organization and loses the broader context,” said Philip Habel, a professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, who noted that the effectiveness of advertisements are hard to gauge.
SEIU Healthcare is advocating specifically that the state’s Community Care Program, Childcare Assistance Program and the Home Service Program be fully funded. And the advertisement campaign will play a part in getting that done, Seibert said.
Rank-and-file lawmakers this year are charged with crafting the state budget on a line-item basis. During the past few years, the Legislature approved a lump-sum budget, passing the task of doling out funding to specific programs on to the governor.
Under the Illinois Department on Aging, the Community Care Program each month helps keep about 71,000 elderly residents in their own homes by providing in-home services, such as laundry, grocery shopping, social activities and emergency response services.
The Department on Aging estimates it will need $701.4 million to maintain the program.
Both the Childcare Assistance Program and Home Services Program operate under the state Department of Human Services, which is asking to receive $285 million and $787 million, respectively, for the programs.
The Child Care Assistance Program helps low-income families pay for child care services, while the Home Services Program works similarly to the Community Care Program but serves severely disabled individuals.
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, who heads the House budget committee on human services, hadn’t seen all of the commercials, but anticipates “breathtaking” cuts all around.
“We cannot spend more money than we have in revenue,” Feigenholtz said. “We need to see data. We need to know that the money that we're spending is money well spent and that there's an established goal and those goals are being met.”
However, a lead Senate member charged with crafting the human services budget paints a vastly different picture.
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said that chamber most likely will be increasing funds for community care programs and keeping child care funding level.
“I like everything that helps keep pressure on us to maintain these critical services. I think they're helpful,” Steans said. “I'm hoping we can continue to keep services that are critical to low- and working-income families and … for our elderly.”
The governor and Legislature have until midnight on May 31 to sign off on a state budget before the required votes for passage increases. Lawmakers have been working to craft a state spending plan since Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget speech in February, but exact numbers have yet to be decided. And with the Senate and House working with different budget number goals, a final budget may not surface until the last minute.
Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Westmont, said she appreciates the message behind the advertisements, but said advocacy groups shouldn’t be surprised if they see cuts.
“Remember lots of times when they go into the new budget, there are increases in there. You may just be cutting them from what they appropriated above the last year's line item. Can they exist on what they had last year?” Bellock said.