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Fostering Capacity Building and Sustainability in the Face of a State Budget Crisis

In 2016, Illinois became the only state in the past 80 years to lack a full operating budget for an entire fiscal year. This failure to enact a state budget created widespread devastation, and the health and human service sector was hit hardest. By midyear, 85% of Illinois human services agencies were required to cut the number of clients served, turning away people in need. Seventy-five percent of these agencies were forced to tap into cash reserves or lines of credit to continue operations. Twenty-seven percent had to reduce staff, and many eliminated programs and services. While organizations and individuals waited for resolve, Illinois entered its second year without a budget.

To prevent further damage and help foster sustainable solutions, CFP launched the State Budget Response Fund in 2016. This one-time funding opportunity helped current grantees to withstand challenges to service provision. The Fund was designed to go beyond emergency funding, fostering innovation and capacity building. A competitive request for proposals process generated 35 submissions and significant sector-wide interest. CFP awarded nine grants, and thereby supported a range of initiatives, including targeted case management services, an evaluation project, facility mergers and new billing systems.  

CFP awarded nine grants, and thereby supported a range of initiatives, including targeted case management services, an evaluation project, facility mergers and new billing systems.  

The YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago is an example of how the Fund helped to support current and additional programs and services. The agency’s most vulnerable state contracts impacted young parents and sexual violence survivors. The budget impasse threatened to close the door on early childhood education. Thousands of Chicago area families rely on subsidized child care made possible by state funds. The lack of such funds also threatened to eliminate the only rape crisis center on Chicago’s south side and in a neighboring south suburb. YWCA needed improved internal systems and new fee-for-service models to preserve both service to clients and fiscal health.

The State Budget Response Fund grant enabled YWCA to develop a technology platform to improve data allocation and internal client management, which in turn meets the critical needs of countless families across the city. The four-phase initiative includes: 1) modifications and enhancements to existing client management system; 2) development of data collection standards and procedures; 3) staff training; and 4) service delivery expansion pilot. They have also developed a variety of new conduits for revenue generation, including robust corporate engagement opportunities, which will help to decrease their reliance on state funding over time. 

In addition to providing funds to the nine grantees, the State Budget Response Fund went on to leverage additional dollars from peer foundations throughout the city. The cohort met quarterly over the grant period to share updates and best practices with the goal of fostering meaningful collaborations; several new partnerships formed as a result. 

Faced with a state budget crisis and the threat of slashed services to Chicagoans most in need, the Budget Response Fund not only ensured that nine agencies could continue providing services, it enhanced the agencies’ sustainability through capacity-building supports and leveraged additional funding from local foundations.