Advocates took the journey to Jacksonville to testify before the Commission on Governmental Forecasting & Accountability. I felt like I was back in the 1960’s, the disrespectful language, the low expecations of the people living there, the lack of vision. It was painful. It was about jobs, the ecomomy of Jacksonville, it was about institutional living.
Advocates held a press conference before the hearing. We had a great turnout. Speakers included Tamar Heller Ph.D., John Porter, Sr., Charlotte Cronin, Amber Smock and I. The coverage was excellent with TV, radio and news papers.
The hearing went on for about 5 hours. I think there were about 300 people at the hearing. The advocates did a great job with outstanding testimony speaking to the posibilities of community living. It was a stark contrast to the opposition who continue to embrace institutional living.
This morning we will rally in the Capitol and carry our message of independence, freedom and equality to lawmakers.
Here is a story from the Jacksonville Courier on last nights hearing.
Dozens of people had their voices heard and about 1,000 made there presence felt at a public hearing Monday night concerning the proposed closure of the Jacksonville Developmental Center.
At the meeting, representatives of the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability heard testimony from about 90 speakers both for and against the closure of JDC.
Now that the public hearing has been held, the next step is for COGFA members to meet and make a recommendation on whether or not to close the center.
COGFA Executive Director Dan Long said a decision will have to be made by Nov. 12.
“You don’t want to make a rash decision,” he said “That’s why we don’t vote tonight.”
The meeting Monday opened with members of the state Department of Human Services giving brief statements and answering questions posed by COGFA members.
David Vaught, Director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, spoke on the primary reason why Gov. Pat Quinn has recommended the closure and why the DHS has agreed with the recommendation — the lack of money in the budget.
“One of the large underfundings was in the developmental disabilities in the Department of Human Services,” Vaught said. “We can’t spend money we don’t have… We made it clear last spring there would be serious consequences.”
Kevin Casey, Director of the DHS division of Developmental Disabilities, spoke on other issues, such as the heavy cost in maintaining an old facility. He said in recent years the state hasn’t provided enough money for life-safety issues — like fire alarm systems — which has led to a backlog of general maintenance.
State Rep. Jim Watson said he felt these facility repair issues could be accomplished though donated time and labor.
“There are things we can do to think outside the box to address these issues,” he said.
Michelle Saddler, DHS Secretary, added that JDC was the only facility that has been put on official notice — in the summer of 2010 — that it was in imminent danger of de-certification due to life safety issues. Immediate issues were repaired after securing $1.8 million in 2011.
Casey said if JDC is closed, the majority of the residents would move to community-based programs, but until each resident is assessed there’s no certainty where they would go.
“That would heavily depend on where individuals want to live. That would depend on where the family would like them to live.” Casey said. “About two thirds of the Jacksonville residents already go to community day services. So to keep lives stable we would like to keep them in this area.”
Saddler said the plan to close the state’s developmental center was already part of the department’s agenda.
“The [Developmental Disabilities] long-term plan that has been written was competed this past summer and it had been our hope to introduce it to the general assembly this year,” Saddler said. “So the governor is taking his policy from the Department of Human Services.”
She said that the plan has been in development for some time, and is also based on case by case basis.
“[Gov. Pat Quinn] understands and wishes there was more time to have a more peaceful and thoughtful transition,” Saddler said. “These are the words he shared with me.”
If funds are allocated during the veto session, Saddler indicated JDC may still close eventually.
“It would give us time for a more thoughtful transition,” she said.
Casey said closure would take at least a year.
Robert Brock, DHS Budget Director, estimated the state would save about $10.6 million if the developmental center closed which takes into account money that would need to be spent to move residents into community based programs.
But even with those savings, the DHS would still have a budget shortfall of about $34 million for fiscal year 2012.
“If we get $34 million, we would be following the plan as prescribed,” Brock said, “We have to get $68 million at the get go [to prevent closures].”
The general assembly begins its veto session this week, and one issue expected to be discussed is potential funding to be re-allocated to prevent some facility closures.
Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, urged COGFA members, as members of the general assembly, to consider that option.
“Beginning tomorrow, you and your colleagues will be back in Springfield, and you have the opportunity to allocate sufficient funds that it can remain open,” Bayer said. “That needs to be done.”
During the public hearing, panels of JDC residents and guardians spoke with anecdotes of their experiences and requests to keep the center open. Elected officials, including Mayor Andy Ezard, State Sen. Watson, State Sen. Sam McCann, South Jacksonville Village President Gordon Jumper and others each spoke on keeping the center open.
Others spoke on moving forward with the closure, including representatives from the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois, Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities of Illinois, The Arc of Illinois, Access Living and other advocacy organizations. Many of whom echoed concerns shared by DHS.
Barbara Prichard, of Community for All, read a statement of a former JDC resident who was moved into a group home and now lives independently.
“I like living independently and hope to be successful in my new place, like I was in my group home until recently,” she read. “A lot of people at JDC are like me, they can live on their own if they have the resources to do it.”