It was Wednesday, April 19 and we were hurting. Our cash reserves were depleted, our precious $100,000 CD cashed in and I was about to fill out paperwork to establish a line of credit using our building as collateral.
Established in 1972, the “we” I refer to above is the Survivor Empowerment Center, the agency that has an established shelter in Carbondale and also provides services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in eight counties across southern Illinois including Williamson. I was Treasurer of the Center at that point, a board member for three years, and my reports became the impetus to discuss furloughs, layoffs, holding positions open, cutting back on services, and yes – discussing the possibility that we might not live to see our 45th anniversary.
Either because they forgot, or perhaps because they “forgot” (wink, wink), the Illinois General Assembly left domestic violence prevention unfunded when they passed a stopgap budget in June, 2016, and without state appropriations we could not access the federal dollars that required matching state funds.
Victims who needed assistance in their struggle to become survivors were again without power and without a voice in Springfield, and were in danger of being told to go fend for themselves.
It was against this backdrop that State Comptroller Susana Mendoza visited the Survivor Empowerment Center on April 19, took a tour, interacted with staff and clients and assured us – or at least tried to assure us – that better days were coming and that when appropriations were approved that our checks would be placed at the top of what had become a very, very, very high stack of bills.
She did not lie.
When members of the legislature finally decided to do their job, including retroactively funding domestic violence prevention, Mendoza elevated our checks to the top of the pile of the state’s unpaid bills; a pile that currently totals just under $10 billion.
Last Tuesday – less than a week after the Survivor Empowerment Center celebrated their 45th anniversary - Mendoza was back in southern Illinois and back at the Survivor Empowerment Center. She wasn’t there to take a curtain call, although she certainly could have. She still spoke critically of Gov. Rauner, but her overall tone was more understanding, more conciliatory, more aware that the financial problems that still confront the state were not made overnight and were most certainly not made by members of a single political party.
She realizes that it will take both Republicans and Democrats to fix the mess that is our state, and that those that take the lead in offering compromise and providing solutions may well be the first to inherit the wrath of their party elders.
For now, suffice it to say Mendoza expedited payment to providers of sexual assault and domestic violence programs across the state and helped The Survivor Empowerment Center – at least for now – regain the financial footing that will allow us to focus on victims rather than making payroll.