Reporting Mike Puccinelli
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Illinois’ “Transitional Assistance” program has helped homeless, disabled and unemployed state residents for years, but now it’s gone away, a victim of the state’s budget shortfall.
As CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli reports, some say it is proof positive that the books are being balanced largely on the backs of the poor.
“I’m just a little angry with the state,” said Frederick Robertson, who had been receiving $100 a month in transitional assistance.
“It’s like a big stone being dropped,” he said as he met with a case worker at the Heartland Alliance.
Two weeks ago, the disabled 54-year-old received a letter announcing that the $13 million transitional assistance program had been cut from the state budget.
“Because of the change, you will receive no further cash assistance after June 2011,” the letter told him.
Now, the lung disease patient who once called the streets of Chicago’s Gold Coast home fears he could be headed back to homelessness.
“That’s what it really leads to,” he said
Robertson isn’t alone. He’s one of 9,000 people who the state had deemed unemployable, before they lost their benefits at the end of June.
Heartland Alliance Policy Director Gina Guillemette said it’s part of an outrageous dismantling of the state’s social safety net.
“I think for a lot of individuals, this was the difference of them being able to make ends meet or not,” she said. “A lot of folks are already living on the margins and this is just another hit to the most vulnerable in our state.”
Former truck driver Bob Majer is in that group. His heart problems knocked him out of the workforce three years ago. He said that losing the $100-a-month check will rob him of his dignity.
“Now somebody is trying to step on me and push me into the mud. I can’t even have the basic simple things for life,” he said. “The toiletries are gone. Just transit, like I said, to get anywhere; I don’t have that. If it’s not within walking distance or hobbling distance, I can’t get there.”
Majer said that’s caused him to consider what was previously unthinkable: begging for handouts.
“You start thinking about maybe even being a thief,” he said. “You have to have certain things and no matter what, you gotta do it. How can you go and really beg for anything when everybody else is hurting at the same time?”
Most of the recipients had no idea they were losing their benefits until they received those letters just days before the end of June.
Heartland officials said the state is essentially passing the costs onto cities and towns that will have to deal with the healthcare and housing issues of this vulnerable population.
That’s one reason why state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said he believes this cut will ultimately cost the state much more than it saves.