This will be a telling week in the General Assembly as legislators consider Senate Bill 2047, a human services, community grants appropriation bill, which passed the Senate 55-0 before the Passover Break. The vote indicates the Governor’s support because both Republicans and Democrats voted for the bill. At this time SB 2047 has not been scheduled for a vote but that could change.
This bill includes:
- The Autism Program – $1,505,000
- Best Buddies – $342,100
- Life Span Project – $165,000
- Dental Grants – $ 345,000
- Out of State Residential – $175,000
- Respite Care Services – $3,072,300
- Epilepsy Services – $726,200
Also in the Capitol, Friday is the deadline for a Constitutional Amendment to the increase in the income tax which could lay the ground work for a budget resolution. One bill, HJRCA 57 (Madigan), would make education a fundamental right (instead of a goal) and require the state to be the predominant funder of public education (instead of the primary funder). There is some opposition based on concerns that this would cost way more than the State can afford and that it might lead to court cases challenging the authority to expel students. On the good side, there is language in there about educating individuals so they can reach their full capacity and that could be used to argue that children with disabilities are entitled to more than just a “free appropriate”. Michigan actually uses a higher standard than “free appropriate” education.
Right now there are two groups working on a possible state budget compromise. The Arc certainly supports the need for new revenue so we will be watching this very closely.
Story on SB 2047 below from the State Journal Register.
Local groups serving autistic children, others counting on stopgap state funding plan
By Dean Olsen
A Springfield mother of a 4-year-old boy with autism wants to see her son continue therapy that has helped him communicate, reduced his frustration and created hope of success in the classroom someday.
The director of a local drug-abuse treatment center doesn’t want to see more addicts die waiting for care.
Funeral directors throughout the state would like to be paid for serving indigent clients whose families had counted on assistance for final expenses.
These Illinoisans and others in line to benefit said they support a stopgap state funding proposal expected to be considered by the state House this week after receiving unanimous support in the Senate in April.
“Please pass the funding for autism and for children with disabilities,” Springfield resident Tameiko Brownlee, mother of TreVonn Eatman, told The State Journal-Register last week in a plea to lawmakers.
She said she hopes state funding can resume for the autism clinic, also known as The Autism Program, operated by Springfield’s Hope Institute for Children and Families at the Noll Medical Pavilion, 5220 South Sixth Street Road.
“The programs are working,” said Brownlee, 36, who moved from Chicago to Springfield two years ago so her 4-year-old son wouldn’t have wait years to receive affordable sessions of applied behavior analysis therapy.
“I cry tears of joy, and I am so thankful for the TAP program because it has helped more than anybody would ever know,” she said.
The legislation, Senate Bill 2047, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, would send most human service providers slightly more than one-third of the state money that not-for-profit organizations and other vendors would receive in a normal fiscal year.
It’s unknown whether the bill would take pressure off lawmakers and the governor to end a state budget impasse that enters its 11th month Sunday. Unlike previous proposals that would reinstate full funding and have been criticized by Gov. Bruce Rauner, SB 2047 would be paid for with $441 million in income tax revenue already flowing into the state’s Commitment to Human Services Fund.
The bill, which appears to have bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled House and isn’t opposed by the Republican governor, has been welcomed by human-service providers. The bill doesn’t contain parts of Rauner’s anti-union, pro-business “Turnaround Agenda.”
Providers said the money, for the most part, wouldn’t allow them to restore staff and programs that have been reduced or eliminated during the historic impasse. But the cash, they said, could help avoid more cuts while Democrats who control the General Assembly try to work out a compromise with Rauner.
“This is the best chance we’ve got to at least bridge us to the next fiscal year,” said Clint Paul, president and chief executive officer of Hope Institute.
Similar to the stopgap higher education funding bill recently passed by lawmakers and signed into law by Rauner, the human-services bill taps a special fund set aside for such services. That makes it more palatable, said Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield.
Most House Republicans agree that it’s a “no-brainer” to support the bill, especially if other funding isn’t added through an amendment, he said.
“It at least gets some of the money flowing,” Butler said. “There’s pretty strong support for it in the House.”
Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, said: “This is obviously not a perfect plan. … I am for coming up with a comprehensive solution to the budget impasse.” But she added, “I know the human services area of the budget is very desperate.”
Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, said she views SB 2047 “like a bridge. Anything is better than nothing, but it’s not what we need.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago could sink the bill or help it sail through the chamber. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown wouldn’t reveal the speaker’s preference.
“The needs of human services go far beyond the $441 million they’ve allocated,” Brown said. “I don’t know who picks the winners and losers there. It’s a complicated issue. We’re going to take a look at it.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said he supports stopgap funding for human services. He said he is optimistic that a “comprehensive balanced budget solution” for the current fiscal year and fiscal 2017 will be achieved by the end of May. Fiscal 2017 begins July 1.
When asked Rauner’s view of SB 2047, spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the governor looks forward to working with lawmakers on “bipartisan momentum to ensure social services, public safety and public health are funded in the weeks ahead as we negotiate a balanced budget with reform for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.”
The special human-services fund was created in 2011 as a reason for Democrats to support creation of the temporary income tax increase, according to Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago. The increase was allowed to expire on schedule in January 2015 — a situation that has contributed to the growing backlog of bills.
Money in the fund has been spent each year when budgets were approved by the legislature and governor, Steans said.
Now, the fund’s existence “is a way for the Republicans to feel comfortable,” Steans said.
The bill wouldn’t take the pressure off elected officials to work out fiscal 2016 and 2017 budgets, she said.
The bill also doesn’t reduce the state’s backlog of bills, expected to total $10 billion by the end of June, she said.
“This just adds to the queue to be paid,” she said.
Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, said, “You can make the pretense that this is paid for. This is still blue smoke and mirrors as to the fiscal reality involved.”
Lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, are feeling pressure from people and organizations in their districts to prevent more damage to human services, he said.
“This allows everyone to save face,” Redfield said. “I don’t know that it makes it more or less likely that we will get a grand bargain. It does allow for some cooling off on both sides.”
The bill provides for payments through the Community Care program for businesses employing attendants who help senior citizens remain in their homes and out of nursing homes. Home-delivered meal programs also would get money, said Lori Hendren, spokeswoman for AARP Illinois.
Other providers that would benefit include rape crisis centers, homeless shelters and local health departments.
Hundreds of staff positions at drug-treatment and mental-health agencies have been left unfilled or eliminated during the impasse, said Eric Foster, chief operating officer of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association.
The impasse hasn’t resulted in layoffs at Gateway Foundation’s Springfield Treatment Center. But the impasse, coming after years of state funding cuts, forced Gateway to further limit its available beds for people without private insurance, according to center executive director Kerry Henry.
During the impasse, the wait for low-income clients — whose care normally would be paid for with state funds — has grown from a few days to between eight and 10 weeks, Henry said. Many of those waiting aren’t able to be contacted when a slot opens up because they have returned to abusing alcohol, heroin or other drugs, she said.
At least two people have overdosed and died while on Gateway’s waiting list since the impasse began, she said.
“There are a lot of people who can’t reach services,” Henry said. “Addiction is a huge problem, and the heroin epidemic is out of control.”
Hope Institute normally would receive about $4.3 million annually to provide sliding-scale services to low-income families with autistic children through sites across the state. The bill would provide Hope $1.5 million.
In Springfield, the money would allow Hope to perform diagnostic services for 45 low-income families on a waiting list, Paul said.
Since Tameiko Brownlee moved to Springfield with her son, TreVonn, the boy’s father — her fiancé — died in September at age 43 during a sudden illness, she said.
Brownlee, a former customer-service call-center employee, said she can’t work because she needs to devote all her time to her son as he prepares for kindergarten this fall.
Brownlee could lose affordable treatment for her son if the bill doesn’t pass, and that petrifies her. TreVonn isn’t able to say hardly any words now, but he is progressing well with the therapy, Brownlee said.
“He used to be very frustrated a lot,” she said. “He’s happier now. If he goes without the therapy, I have a fear that he would regress.”
— Contact Dean Olsen: firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1543,twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.
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