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Task force strategizes about funding cuts [1 October, 2008]

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Illinois Governor  Rod Blagojevich recently cut spending at state agencies.  Among the hardest-hit was the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse [DASA], which lost 21 percent of its budget.

The Illinois House of Representatives has voted to restore the DASA cuts, but the Senate has yet to vote.  The Chicago Task Force on LGBT Substance Use and Abuse convened September  17 to discuss the effects on the LGBTQ community and what steps it could take to escalate community and public activism around the issue.  Simone Koehlinger and Pastor Kevin Downer were moderators.

Lisa Rivitz of the Howard Brown Health Center said that the organization isn’t directly affected, perhaps because it doesn’t get DASA funding, but “it’s affecting us indirectly: Clients are calling and saying that they’re not able to get services elsewhere and they want services from us.”

Jim Pickett of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago said that there are “clear links between substance abuse and AIDS and a lot of our clients living with HIV need substance abuse treatment.” He also pointed out that “[t]he other big issue with losing these dollars is that we lose federal match dollars.”

Another population affected includes those sentenced for substance abuse who may now be compelled to spend time in jail instead of treatment and rehabilitation programs.

Joe Franklin, Outpatient Treatment Manager at Heartland Alliance, said that the cuts have forced “a lot of treatment centers to make decisions that are not comfortable, such as accepting a person who can pay versus a person who does not have the resources … the treatment capacity has been diminished so much that there are centers that are thinking of [closing].”

The Task Force discussed its next steps, with a spirited discussion about whether or not it could take on an advocacy role: Many members represent organizations whose policies may not echo everything put out by the Task Force.  One proposal to address this was the use of position briefs or fact sheets.  Overall, members emphasised the importance of working on behalf populations affected by the cuts.  Dr. David Ostrow pointed out that “like so many times in the past, it’s the most vulnerable people who get hurt the most, the programs that can serve the population really at risk: People who go to jail instead of getting treatment, programs for people who don’t have insurance or other means to get into treatment.”

Orginally published in Windy City Times, 1 October, 2008


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