Working Together, Year-Round

by Michael Stephan, Heart of Illinois United Way

Over the last two years, Heart of Illinois United Way partner agencies have lost more than $12 million in state and federal funding. With the current state budget crisis, it is more critical than ever for the HOI United Way's annual campaign to raise the maximum amount of dollars to ensure vital health and human care services are available in our community.

As the largest non-governmental funder of local health and human care agencies in central Illinois, supporting the Heart of Illinois United Way is vital to helping people in need, as our funding provides a reliable and steady source of income for community initiatives and partner agencies.

By mobilizing people and resources to make a positive impact, the Heart of Illinois United Way is the lead collaborator in addressing concerns in the areas of education, income and health. Working 365 days a year to help people in need, our partner agencies are coping with an increase in demand for their services and dwindling financial resources.

While individuals and families are directly affected by the state budget and changes in our local economy, they are also beginning to feel the trickle-down effects of the budget situation as agencies begin to cut back on services and staff. According to United Way of Illinois, it's estimated that a majority of programs—especially those that impact children and working adults—will be cut upwards of 25 percent over the coming months. Many agencies are also struggling to keep services running by depending on cash reserves or lines of credit.

Partnering with Bradley University every three years to provide a comprehensive assessment of the education, income and health needs of the people of central Illinois, the Heart of Illinois United Way knows the needs in our community continue to grow:

  • The poverty rate in Peoria County was 17 percent (2.4 percent higher than state average) in 2013.
  • More than 43 percent of area families with single mothers and children under 18 live in poverty.
  • More than 50 percent of children in central Illinois were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches in 2013.
  • In 2013, federal SNAP benefits (food stamps) were reduced by $5 billion, impacting 47 million people. The same year, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits in Peoria County increased, even though 75 percent of these recipients are employed.
  • More than 50 percent of calls to the Heart of Illinois 2-1-1 service are for rent and utility assistance. With pending cuts to the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), low-income families, seniors and persons with disabilities will be forced to make difficult choices between food, medicine and shelter.

By investing in more than 87 local programs at 44 partner agencies, Heart of Illinois United Way-funded programs benefit the lives of more than 100,000 people each year throughout Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall, Stark and Putnam counties. These programs not only provide a critical safety net to help with immediate needs, they provide vital services that positively affect future generations.

Our community needs your support of the Heart of Illinois United Way now more than ever. Many of us take this time of year to make donations during the holidays. By working together, we can ensure the most basic of needs are met—not just once a year, but year-round. Think of the holidays as a time to start a giving plan for your company, organization or family. From donations to volunteering, opportunities await your generosity and compassion. We wish for you to have a happy holiday season and as always, to live united. iBi

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