It took Ayo Maat two hours to get from her home on the North Side to Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center in Austin to a meeting where local residents discussed Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts.
Maat is disabled and uses Pace paratransit services. When she finally made it to the meeting put on by the Alliance for Community Services, her main objective was to tell others in the Austin community how state budget cuts will impact city transportation.
Paratransit riders “already think that the $3 is too much, but we’re paying it,” Maat said about the fare disabled riders pay for door-to-door pick-up and transport.
Maat and other advocates for the disabled fear those fares will go up, making it hard if not impossible for people to get around.
“I would definitely have to cut back on my riding,” Maat said. “And it would affect me in many ways. If I can’t get to the doctor, then I could lose certain (health) services.”
The Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace would lose about $130 million in state funding if Gov. Rauner’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 gets approved as is.
An expected $8.5 million cut to paratransit services represents nearly a 5 percent reduction to the state’s paratransit annual budget, according to the Chicago Tribune.
With cuts to other vital social services being considered, community organizers like Maat, who is the president of IMPROVE, an advocacy group for paratransit riders, gathered in Austin April 1 to inform a crowd of nearly 30 of what to expect if and when funding cuts kick in.
“The purpose of tonight is really to get information out about what the threats are from the proposed budget cuts,” said Fran Tobin, coordinator for the Alliance for Community Services.
The group discussed how cuts to home care, mental health services and transportation would affect local residents, and it provided a forum for residents who will be impacted.
“We really do need to do more of this kind of information sessions in Austin,” Tobin said.
And although his group has traveled throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs providing similar presentations, Tobin said Austin will be deeply impacted by these cuts. That’s why West Side residents must be made aware, he said.
“We want to get the word out,” Tobin said. “We also want a chance for people to speak for themselves about what they’re worried about. It’s one thing to have advocacy organizations speak up, which is really good and important, but people themselves are the ones who are going to bare the brunt, and we have to step up and speak.”
Renna Thomas, president of the Austin group Sista’s of the Hood, said people in the community know about the cuts to services, but they lack details. Her group provides services to domestic violence victims and the homeless and does outreach to senior citizens.
“You have different people in different aspects that are going to be affected by the cuts,” Thomas said. “(They) can explain their position on it. Now we you can make a better, conscious decision on how we can move forward.”
Many audience members signed a petition that will be sent to Gov. Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly requesting cuts be stopped and that the state “stop balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.”
No elected officials were present at the meeting, though Tobin said some were invited.
“We did notify some of the state legislators, we notified officials that they were welcome to come and listen and say a few words,” Tobin said. “But the main thing tonight is to get information out. Be clearer about what is the impact these cuts are going to make and talk about how do we keep fighting back.”
The Alliance for Community Services will continue to conduct similar forums across Chicago where there is a need, Tobin said. Event information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
Rauner’s office did not return requests for comment.