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Aurora shelter finds friend with hand on checkbook

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinktalks Mutual Ground board members staff Mutual Ground Inc. AurorWednesday February 13 2013. Mutual Ground Inc. was

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka talks to Mutual Ground board members and staff at Mutual Ground Inc. in Aurora on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Mutual Ground Inc. was founded in 1975, providing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their families. Topinka meet with the not-for-profitÕs leaders and staff, to talk about the state making non-profit's like them a priority in Springfield. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 15, 2013 12:45PM

AURORA — Judy Baar Topinka promised the staff at Aurora’s Mutual Ground domestic violence shelter Wednesday that non-profits which serve the “most vulnerable” are her priority when she pays the state’s bills.

Illinois State Comptroller Topinka, who controls the state’s checkbook, said she has been reaching out to agencies, encouraging them to call should they ever get into a financial bind because of budget cuts and late payments.

“We want to make sure you stay solvent and are not in a state of worry all of the time,” she said.

Topinka said by law her office has to pay Illinois investors and people who loaned it money — and “this state has spent itself into a hole.” But once those bills are out of the way, “the first ones up are the nonprofits,” she said.

“You are dealing with the most vulnerable people — these are critical services,” she said.

The Republican said the comptroller’s office has an emergency system where it can move money around if agencies ever find their “backs up against wall” and face cutting services.

Michelle Meyer, executive director of Mutual Ground, said state funding is 58 percent of the shelter’s annual budget, larger than they would prefer, but they are working to expand their funding sources.

“Those state payments help us keep our doors open,” Meyer said.

Topinka said the comptroller’s office has about $6.7 billion in unpaid bills. She said bills sometime are held up in the agencies that authorize the funding to nonprofits, but her office can call to say they’ve held it up long enough.

“I can always promise that you have a friend with us,” she said.

Topinka began her visit by saying domestic violence issues were “near and dear to her heart.” She said she was told by her father that her grandfather “drank too much” and abused her paternal grandmother.

“Although my grandfather died before I was born, the story stayed with me,” Topinka said.

“I hope we can convince women they don’t have to put up with it — there are shelters like yours where they can be protected and get their lives together again,” Topinka said.

Meyer said each day at Mutual Ground is dedicated to conveying their message of hope.

She said Mutual Ground has an approach that focuses on intervention and prevention education that reaches into the area’s schools to stop the “generational cycle.”

“We really need the help of everybody involved to make sure we keep functioning. Your support makes me feel better,” Meyer told Topinka, adding, “55 percent of homeless women are homeless because of domestic violence or sexual assault.”

Meyer said although the shelter is not in a dire financial situation and does have other revenue coming in, the state’s payments often arrive late or are less than the amount expected.

“It helps to have an ally,” Meyer said.

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