Look at any area of the city's 2012 budget, as proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and you won't see any bite larger than from the area labeled "community services."
Most section of the budget is getting cut. Finance and administration down by 3.1 percent. Legislative and elections down 9.5 percent. Infrastructure down 1 percent. City development, public safety and regulatory? Reduced 2.9, 1.4 and 10.7, respectively.
Community services? Their budget has been reduced by nearly a fifth, down 17.7 percent.
For poor residents in Chicago, it means they'll have even less help than before. While corporations get a cut in their head tax, poor Chicagoans will see the city services they rely on--health centers, child care, workforce development, mental health treatment, library services and the like--get smaller and, in some cases, disappear.
Take public health. During the first six months of next year, the department will close all of its health clinics and "transition the patients of its seven primary health care clinics to community-based federally qualified health clinics." Mental health clinics won't be shut down completely but will be reduced by half--from 12 to six.
"The focus of these clinics will be offering care to the city’s most vulnerable patients by maintaining services for the 990 current uninsured patients in a more cost-effective manner and support insured patients by finding other high-quality locations for their care," reads the mayor's proposed budget.
From the sound of it, Emanuel doesn't anticipate any more residents needing mental health services, even though unemployment is rising, homelessness is predicted to do the same and communities are facing foreclosure. These services are being cut at the same time that the mayor proposes reductions in public safety funds. That's a bad combination, said Che“Rhymefest” Smith, a hip hop artist and community activist, to Medill News Service. Smith was part of a protest at the mayor's office on Wednesday that drew more than 200 people.
“You have people who have set homes on fire, you have people who have had mental illnesses and committed domestic violence, you have people with mental illness that have access, and easy access, in our communities, to guns,” Smith said.
Perhaps cutting the corporate head tax will create more jobs, getting more people employed and insured, including those who are using city services. But forgive me if I'm skeptical. Of the more than $1 billion spent giving tax incentives and bonuses to big corporations in Chicago between 2004 and 2008, it didn't earn a single job for Chicagoans, according to a Chicago Reporter investigation. In fact, the city lost 12,296 jobs during the better part of the past decade, the bulk of which were from the African-American community.
The mayor says he hears the anguish of this week's protesters and sympathizes with those who've been hurt by the economy. But his main talking point this whole year has been about the need for cuts, the need for Chicago to get out of the red and into the black.
"A budget is about priorities. And this deficit is an opportunity to get it right. We can either start shaping our city’s future, or let it shape us,” he said.
So, it seems from that statement and the budget that corporations are our priority, not sick citizens who need treatment. I guess no politician would come out and say that. But the numbers don't lie.
Photo credit: Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune
© Community Renewal Society 2011