Quinn's budget proposal dismays agencies

Quinn's budget proposal dismays agencies

People with disabilities, seniors who get help with prescription costs, low-income families who receive child care subsidies and drug treatment programs could all feel the effects of Gov. Pat Quinn's fiscal 2012 budget proposals, if they're approved by the Legislature.

Agencies that serve the community's poor, elderly and disabled expressed dismay over Quinn's proposed cuts to human services programs Thursday, although one major program for seniors was spared.

"With the budget cuts he has introduced, he's really taking the human services field and stabbed them in the back," said Bruce Suardini, CEO of Prairie Health Systems. "He's said all along he backs us. He really put us under the bus on this one."

The overall budget for the Department of Human Services, which funds many social service programs, would be cut by about 9.8 percent, whereas the Department of Corrections would see a 10 percent increase, he noted.

Substance abuse

Prairie Health Systems, a not-for-profit agency that operates substance-abuse programs in Champaign, Ford and Vermilion counties, could lose more than $740,000 under Quinn's proposed budget – out of a $4.8 million budget – though Suardini called the figures "preliminary."

The state's Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse is slated for a 26.2 percent funding cut, which could translate into a $605,000 loss for Prairie Center. It would also see a 6 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursement rates ($21,000) and possible elimination of substance-abuse prevention funding ($115,000).

"It's a huge chunk. You just can't make that up with cutting a few employees. ... It would be a major program cut," he said.

Prairie Center's funding was cut by $900,000 in 2008, forcing it to close its detoxification program and lay off 22 employees. The detox program reopened after some of the money was restored and six nurses were rehired. Suardini pledged to fight the latest proposals as well.

"It seems to me he's taking the most vulnerable and making those people come to Springfield and cry and beg and get legislators to change their minds on what programs to cut," he said.

The state is shifting all programs to Medicaid-based funding, eliminating $47 million in substance abuse funding, he said. At the same time, a new state "utilization management" program, which would evaluate applicants before they qualify for substance-abuse treatment, could also shrink access to services, he said. Many people referred through the drug-court program would not meet the criteria for residential or intensive outpatient care, he said.

"It's a bureaucratic, administrative nightmare," Suardini said.

Disability services

The Developmental Services Center would take a $400,000 to $450,000 hit if the cuts go through, said CEO Dale Morrissey. That includes 6 percent across-the-board cuts in the reimbursement rates DSC receives for Medicaid-based programs, rates that are already among the lowest in the country, he said.

"That really doesn't make a lot of sense," he said. "That's not carving out where we should look at waste. It's just taking a big whack at everything."

And, because state Medicaid dollars receive a 50 percent federal match, the cuts would end up costing Illinois federal Medicaid funding, he said.

DSC would also lose $135,000 for a respite program for people who care for a child or relative with disabilities at home, and $22,000 for a supported employment program.

Morrissey said the budget sends "mixed messages." It talks about reducing the population in state institutions by 200 people – a worthy goal, he says – but then increases funding for those institutions (mostly for staff wages and benefits) while cutting funding to community support programs that allow the disabled to live independently.

DSC has operated for more than a year with more than a dozen full-time jobs and nine part-time positions vacant, and hasn't accepted any new adults for services since July 1, 2009, he said. About 45 percent of DSC's $12.3 million budget comes from state funding.

Seniors

The biggest impact would be felt through elimination of the circuit-breaker program, which helps seniors get help with prescription drug costs, property tax grants and license plate discounts.

Those who qualify for the program, aimed at lower-income seniors and those with disabilities, can enroll in Illinois Cares Rx, which pays monthly premiums, annual deductibles and a portion of the co-payments for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program.

Quinn's budget would eliminate the program, for an estimated savings of $107 million a year. The cut is part of the state's effort to cut $1.3 billion in Medicaid spending, said Mike O'Donnell, executive director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging, which manages $10 million a year in federal, state and local funding for senior programs in a 14-county region.

More than 280,000 state residents are enrolled in Illinois Cares Rx, including almost 212,000 seniors, O'Donnell said. They would lose an average benefit of about $1,200, and could be shut out of Medicare Part D coverage if they can't afford the premiums, he said.

Nearly 250,000 state residents also qualify for a circuit-breaker property tax grant in 2009, including about 129,000 seniors, O'Donnell said. The vast majority of the $22.5 million in grants went to people with incomes of less than $27,000 a year.

"If they get rid of the program, it's a drastic cut, and it's going to hit people hard," said Rosanna McLain, director of the Family Service of Champaign County's Senior Resource Center.

Also, state grant programs will be cut by 20 percent, which could affect home-delivered meals and information and assistance services for seniors, such as those run by Family Service, O'Donnell said. The Peacemeal and CRIS meal programs which serve could see "a real reduction," he said.

The good news is that the Department on Aging's largest program, the Community Care Program, would receive a spending increase under Quinn's budget, from $572 million this year to $766 million in fiscal 2012, O'Donnell said. The money would cover payments owed to providers from the current fiscal year, and provide some increases for home-care services and case management, O'Donnell said.

As of July 1, the program will be limited to those who qualify for Medicaid benefits. That could have potentially cut out about 46 percent of Family Service's clients, who make just above the income limits, but O'Donnell said all existing clients will be grandfathered in.

Child care subsidies

About 3,900 families in Champaign and five surrounding counties receive state financial help for child care costs, but up to half of them could lose that assistance under various budget scenarios, officials say.

The exact impact is still unclear, said Brenda Eastham of the UI's Child Care Resource Service, which processes assistance for lower-income families.

If cuts are made, state officials could close enrollment in the system or change eligibility criteria, she said. One possibility being discussed is eliminating subsidies for parents who are going to school, unless they qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The number could be cut by 50 percent if legislators fail to approve Quinn's borrowing plan; otherwise the cuts would be less drastic, Eastham said. Her office serves parents in Champaign, Douglas, Iroquois, Vermilion Macon and Piatt counties.

Parents who lose subsidies could face a choice of quitting a job or school or finding "substandard" child care because that's all they can afford, said Beverley Baker, director of community impact for the United Way of Champaign County.

"Good quality child care is good for kids – good for their brains, good for their social interactions, good for their behavior," said Professor Barbara Fiese, director of the UI's Family Resiliency Center.''

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sameeker wrote on February 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

Since he is cutting all of the services to the poor, they are going to need an expansion of corrections. The DOC is just another industry that treats the citizens of Illinois as mere accounts. The governor should lead by example and take a severe salary cut. he could also get rid of his staff and do all of the work himself for no additional pay. He would then know what life is like for anyone lucky enough to still have a job. I want to know what cuts the wealthy are being asked to take. Is he going to close tax loopholes and ban bribing corporations to locate here? Illinois is beyond redemption.

vnp wrote on February 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

the only question is: why would anyone continue to live in illinois? There are 49 other states. Hasn't everyone had enough?

sameeker wrote on February 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

Without money or a job to relocate too, that is not an option. I would love to bail out of this sorry state.

fedupwithit wrote on February 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

Thank You Gov. Quinn, You evidently recieved the message in November, can you please pass the message along to all of the other elected officials both Dem. and Rep.
Spending cuts MUST happen Social Programs such as these are not immune.

some_mascot wrote on February 21, 2011 at 8:02 am

Good point, cut across the board. These should not be immune... however, watch where you swing your double edged sword.

Shutting down an entire detox unit puts undue stress on an already at capacity emergency room.

When your child is throwing up in the middle of the night or you cut yourself playing with your sword of retribution, please take into account that the tweaker ahead of you probably would be in a monitored detox unit instead of making you wait or vomiting on your shoes. Also take into account that a three day rest at a detox unit costs YOU the fiscally conservative taxpayer less money than 3 consecutive emergency room visits (which is what happens).

serf wrote on February 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Well played. The baggers have a knack of never being able to see further than the end of their own noses. If it doesn't affect them, then it's not important. It's a very childish, selfish world-view.

freechampaign wrote on February 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Speaking of selfish, maybe the drug addicts and alcoholics should have made better life choices in the first place. Talk about selfish, making us all pay for their poor decisions.

some_mascot wrote on February 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I think you oversimplify when you refer to a drug addict as having a rational choice, like they are able to say "I want bacon instead of heroin!" A bacon/opiate dilemma and complete control over both... if only it was that easy for addicted people.

Detox is largely used by patients wanting to get better (meaning that it is not where cops drop you off to sober up after $2 Jameson night), to quit hurting their family, to no longer be dependent on drugs, to painfully sober up. Addicts do not go to in-patient detoxification units to swap dealer stories and play frisbee.

To a very narrow extent you have a point; drugs and alcohol are a drain on society. Just like old people, stray dogs, and overpasses. The latter are fine to fund, the former just needs... ?