CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his preliminary outline for an $8.3 billion 2013 city budget Wednesday, including a proposal to partner the Department of Family and Support Services with nonprofits to help expand their reach.
Grassroots Collaborative, an agency that represents city laborers, unions and beneficiaries of social services, said the partnership will expand social services at the expense of jobs, Executive Director Amisha Patel told DNAinfo.com Chicago. Collaborative members include the Service Employees International Union, the Illinois Hunger Coalition, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and Action Now.
"Yes, we need critical services that address the needs of homeless folks," Patel told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "[But] here I think he's pitting workers against the communities that use these services. Instead of having those services be delivered by city workers, he has outsourced them to nonprofits, where organizations like Catholic Charities will pay their workers significantly less."
Patel also worries that the budget proposal masks decreases in neighborhood and public sector job opportunities, offsetting those numbers with "job transfers" from companies relocating to Chicago — many of which were never available to the city's unemployed, she told DNAinfo.com
Kathleen Strand, spokeswoman for Mayor Emanuel, says keeping big companies in Chicago, and adding new ones, has created more than 20,000 new jobs under Emanuel.
But Strand says the jobs debate in the case of the DFSS expansion deal is a moot point: the mayor's office was tasked with expanding services to at-risk populations without increasing spending, and he did.
"This is really about increasing significantly the amount of opportunities we have to help victims of domestic violence, and those most in need, by partnering with nonprofit organizations," Strand told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "So for the same amount of money we are spending now, we are able to provide 150,000 more food boxes at nearly 400 locations. We're going to be able to help 3,000 more victims of domestic violence than we did last year. From a service standpoint, from an economic standpoint, this absolutely makes a lot of sense."
As with Emanuel's unanimously passed but hotly-contested 2012 budget, job creation and social service expansion are two key issues the mayor will need to balance in conjunction with his agenda to reduce the city's remaining $298 million deficit.
Patel also objected to an absence of public meetings in advance of Emanuel's budget release.
"Perhaps he doesn't really want to hear the voices of grassroots leaders like Sijisfredo Avila, from the city’s northwest side," Patel said in a news release. "Avila said, 'Mayor Emanuel kicked the public out of the budget process. It isn't democratic. He only wants his way and doesn’t want to listen to anyone else.'"
Strand says those meetings "were more about shouting at the mayor than they were about constructive dialogues about solutions," and says they've been replaced by more productive roundtables and open city council meetings where the budget is being discussed. She also encourages Chicagoans to submit responses and suggestions via the city's online budget forum, which Emanuel consulted before formulating both the 2012 and 2013 buget proposals.
In his remarks Wednesday, Emanuel noted that the budget proposal, which does not raise taxes and relies on projected revenue increases, is dependent on the passage of pension reforms in Springfield that will lessen the city's current $1.2 billion obligation.