Arc and The Autims Program A Victim of the Budget Impasse
It was our honor to have Russ Bonanno, Director of TAP at our Living with Autism
Conference last week. I am very sad to report to you that TAP has closed its doors.
What a tragic end to a fantastic resource to people with autism and their families.
One can only hope that when this budget mess is finally resolved, TAP and other
important disability services will be restored.
The Arc’s Life Span, Family Support Network and the Family Transition Programs
are also closed due to the budget impasse.
By Dean Olson
GateHouse Media Illinois
October 03. 2015 7:02PM
Autism program a victim of state budget impasse
Richard Tego hasn’t coped well with the recent cutoff of services to help him deal
“He will sit and cry because he can’t go see his friends,” his mother, Veronica Morse
of Carlinville, said recently. “He’s going back into his shell.”
Richard, 13, an eighth-grader at Carlinville Middle School, is among more than a
dozen children who were cut off from services at The Autism Program of Illinois’
Springfield center in late August because of the ongoing state budget impasse.
The regression Morse has seen is what Autism Program officials fear will happen
to hundreds of children statewide as the impasse continues to cause
unprecedented damage to a network of autism diagnostic and treatment services
that began to be developed in 2003.
“We’ve built an infrastructure over 12 years,” Russell Bonanno, the not-for-profit
program’s former state network director, said late last month. “Basically, we’ve built
a bridge, and the bridge is no longer short a brick. The lack of a budget basically
blew up the bridge, and it’s going to take time to rebuild it.”
Bonanno was among four administrative employees of The Autism Program — two
in Springfield, one in Chicago and one in the Champaign area — who were laid off
last week because of the state budget impasse.
The Autism Program, part of Springfield’s Hope Institute for Children and Families,
hasn’t received any of its normal $4.3 million in annual state funding since the
previous fiscal year ended June 30.
Cutbacks resulting from that lack of funding are starting to accelerate, said Clint Paul,
Hope’s president and chief executive officer.
Diagnostic services and treatments for children with autism have stopped at not-for-
profit agencies in Chicago and Charleston that receive state funding through The
Autism Program, Bonanno said. A program in Rockford that gets money from the
program soon may run out of cash.
Training for educators and other professionals statewide also has stopped,
The program’s Springfield center stopped accepting low-income children into its
diagnostic and treatment programs in early August. And by the end of the month,
the program no longer could afford to continue serving families without private
insurance or other means to pay, Paul said.
Sliding scale suspended
Before the cuts, about half of families served through the Springfield site, and
between 40 percent and 80 percent of families at the program’s other sites
throughout the state, paid sliding-scale fees, based on their income, if they
lacked private insurance, Bonanno said.
That means at least half of the 2,500 children served statewide on an annual
basis no longer will be served, he said.
Medicaid doesn’t cover most services from The Autism Program, and families
covered by Medicaid often can’t afford to pay privately for services that can cost
up to $100 or more per hour, he said.
The cuts meant that in late August, 64 families that hadn’t started services at the
Springfield site but were on a waiting list were told they couldn’t be served
because they didn’t have insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket, Bonanno
Fifteen families receiving services for their children had to be dropped, he said.
The clinic in Springfield receives an average of two calls each day from families
requesting services who would need a sliding scale to afford services and now
must be turned away, he added.
Paul said he’s not optimistic that the Democratic-controlled General Assembly
and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will resolve their differences on the state
budget anytime soon.
“Obviously, without services, some of these children would regress and not
succeed,” Paul said. “What we’ve talked about is getting to children early and
often. One dollar spent early saves you $7 down the road. So now we’re just
kicking that can down the road.”
One treatment specialist among the dozen or so at the program in Springfield has
resigned to seek opportunities elsewhere because of all the financial uncertainty,
Highly trained professionals who have left the program across the state won’t be
replaced easily or quickly, Paul said.
Bonanno added, “Even if we got handed a full budget today, full services would
not return tomorrow.”
The success of efforts in the General Assembly to restore state funding for human
service agencies such as The Autism Program are uncertain and could take
months to accomplish if Rauner follows through with a promised veto — even if a
veto override is successful, Paul said.
The legislative process is slow and deliberative and not designed for quick
responses to a budget impasse that is chipping away at the state’s human service
safety net, Hope Institute officials said.
Veronica Morse still hopes for a quick resolution to the impasse and a restoration of
The Autism Program’s assistance for her and other low-income working parents.
Morse, 37, is divorced and said she doesn’t receive much child support from her
son’s father. Because of her only child’s autism-related needs, she is unable to work
more than part time, earning the minimum wage at a Carlinville pizza restaurant.
Her take-home pay is $60 a week. She said she can’t afford to pay $180 out of
pocket each week so that her son can take part in a two-hour social-skills group that
used to cost her $25.
“I am devastated,” Morse said.
The group was a great stress reliever for Richard, who tells Morse that the
program’s therapists and other children are the only people who understand him.
Morse said her son is upset, and so is she. She is grateful for the financial
assistance she received and now worries about her son’s future even more.
“He’s not himself,” she said. “I want to help my child. This was one thing I could do
for him, and it was taken away.”
Contact Dean Olsen at email@example.com, (217) 788-1543 or follow him at
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423