CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – As summer approaches and schools prepare to let out, proposed funding cuts for two Illinois programs geared toward helping teens have community activists concerned that an increase in youth violence could be the result.
Safety Net Works and Neighborhood Recovery Initiative are programs that provide jobs, mentoring as well as youth and adult leadership development services in over 26 communities throughout the state.
Like many states, Illinois faces a budget crisis, but advocates say targeting programs that work and benefit the poor and disenfranchised will do more harm than good. Teen unemployment is on the rise and for Chicago, it has been reported unemployment for Black males ages 16 to 19 is nearly 90 percent.
The Illinois House of Representatives recently voted to cut funding for Neighborhood Recovery Initiative from $33 million to $10 million and to completely eliminate funding for Safety Net Works from $4 million. The State Senate passed a bill allocating funding at $33.5 million and $3.6 million respectively for both programs. Each chamber is now scheduled to review the other entire budget bill for consideration. Democrats hold the majority in both houses.
Advocates for both programs converged in downtown Chicago May 17 in front of the Thompson Center, which is home to several state offices, to let lawmakers know cutting these programs is not the answer.
A delegation also traveled to Springfield, the state capitol, in an attempt to lobby the House to keep both programs.
“Safety Net Works has serviced over 13,000 high risk youth across the state of Illinois and the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative will provide over 3,430 jobs for youth and adults in neighborhoods greatly impacted by violence,” say representatives for both programs.
Pamela Bosley, Auburn-Gresham coordinator of Safety Net Works, says as the weather gets warmer, crime increases so positive and proactive programs that keep youth busy and productive are necessary, especially in crime-riddled areas.
“All of the things that we do are related to mentoring plus jobs which is hiring 80 young people in their community that live in their community to work in their community,” Audrey Johnson, administrative coordinator with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative told The Final Call. Young people in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative include those with prior misdemeanor or criminal backgrounds that want to turn their life around.
The Senate is with us but the problem is the Illinois House and maybe they do not know what we do in our neighborhoods as the result of these programs, said Ms. Bosley. “I don’t know, maybe they don’t live there in our neighborhoods so they don’t know what’s going on. But if they lived in the neighborhoods they would know what was going on,” she added.
Eliminating or cutting either program would hurt neighborhoods and residents who need help, said advocates.
“We would not be able to provide services to the 23 communities that we currently do. So a lot of kids will be out of work, a lot of parents who are in the parent component, a lot of people who are in reentry who are getting out of prison, being able to walk into a job that’s nurturing, all of this will be lost to those people,” says Ms. Bosley.
Budget negotiations were still ongoing at Final Call presstime with lawmakers from both chambers scheduled to continue meeting through the Memorial Day weekend with hopes to agreeing on a bipartisan state budget by May 31.