SPRINGFIELD -- With just 11 days before state government’s new fiscal year, the only budget now on the table offers little additional help for the neediest Illinoisans.

By DANA HEUPEL


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


 


SPRINGFIELD -- With just 11 days before state government’s new fiscal year, the only budget now on the table offers little additional help for the neediest Illinoisans.



As budget negotiations trundle on between the governor and the four legislative leaders, Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has reiterated that the House has already passed a slow-growth budget that would increase spending by $800 million — about 1.5 percent. Even though Madigan has acknowledged the House budget is at least $600 million short of what’s needed for the full year, speculation has grown that it may be the only solution — albeit a temporary one — to the current deadlock.



That’s not good news, say advocates for the state’s children, senior citizens, disabled and lower-income residents.



“You end up getting what you pay for, unfortunately,” said the Rev. Jennifer Kottler, deputy director of Protestants for the Common Good.



The House budget, which is being held in that chamber on a parliamentary maneuver, essentially holds spending for social services at current levels, Kottler said.



“When you do that and you factor in inflation, at the end of the day, it ends up being a cut,” she said.



Among other things, the House plan doesn’t include increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit or in grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families clients, Kottler said.



“These are the folks we in the faith-based world are most concerned about,” she said.



For Tony Paulauski, executive director of the ARC of Illinois, “the biggest omission is some kind of cost-of-doing-business increase” for community agencies that serve the developmentally disabled.



Those agencies have not seen an increase in the past two years, while gas and electricity prices — among other costs — have risen dramatically.



“That’s going to mean some belt tightening, and I’m not sure whether our people can tighten their belts any more,” Paulauski said.



“It’s a tough scenario for our service providers to have to go three years without being taken care of.”



The House budget would provide a 25-cents-per-hour pay increase for direct-care workers, but advocates had sought 50 cents, Paulauski said.



Flat funding for programs for children offered through the Illinois Department of Human Services also “will likely result in service cutbacks,” said Larry Joseph, director of the Budget and Tax Policy Initiative for Voices for Illinois Children.


Those would include helping families pay for child care and early intervention programs for children 3 years old and younger with developmental delays, he said.



But “the biggest problem is arguably in medical assistance,” Joseph said.



Holding funding to current levels for Medicaid and similar programs could restrict enrollments in the All Kids health-care program and perhaps cut rates paid to physicians, community health and mental health centers and other medical providers.



“You simply can’t have flat funding for Medicaid without doing something drastic. That is very worrisome to us,” Joseph said. “Fewer kids are going to get access to these services.”



The same could happen on the other end of the age spectrum, said Donna Ginther, manager of state affairs for AARP.



“It’s going to mean a rollback in services for seniors,” she said.



Not in the House budget is $3 million for “comprehensive care coordination,” which helps seniors determine which services they might qualify for, and then enrolls them, she said.



“It’s the most critical piece that we could put in place to start overhauling our long-term care system and really giving seniors an opportunity to remain at home,” Ginther said.



Also missing is $9 million for an emergency home response system that would let seniors call for help through remote control if they’ve suffered a medical crisis. That money also would help replace eyeglasses, false teeth and hearing aids, she said.



And Ginther said the state Department on Aging has estimated that $2 million cut from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s original budget proposal for meals for seniors “equates to 400,000 meals.”



The governor’s office contacted various social advocacy groups last week with information about what it said would be lost under the House budget plan.



Other benefits for seniors that the legislature passed but the House budget would not fund, she said, are senior meals in rural areas and a program to help older people manage their prescriptions.



“That budget would have an incredible impact,” Ginther said.


 


Dana Heupel can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or dana.heupel@sj-r.com.