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Friday, April 22, 2011

Avenues to Independence - Fairness in Funding: Illinois 2012 Budget Cuts - People with Disabilities lifes in Illinois

Avenues to Independence
Helping individuals with disabilities to responsibly live the lives they choose.

Fairness in Funding:

Earlier this year, Governor Quinn proposed his FY 2012 budget for the State of Illinois. Nobody expected it to be pretty; despite reports that say the recession is over, unemployment is still high and Illinois has yet to catch up on the millions of dollars in unpaid bills it owes to Avenues and other providers of services.

The Governor focused on budget restraints, reforms and state investments to lower unemployment and to improve economic growth. Spending limits and job creation will be the priorities come July 1. Unfortunately, significant spending limits were imposed on funding for community disability programs.

These days, the concept of a “shared sacrifice” where everyone feels some pain in order to create a better future, is an underlying premise in many government budgets. Illinois purports to be sharing the sacrifice; but when you look at the details, community disability and other human services get more than their fair share of the pain.

Community Developmental Disability services will have their funding reduced by 6% in FY 2012. Any program not receiving federal matching dollars will become extinct and individuals with disabilities who function above a certain skill level will no longer be eligible to receive any state support. No matter that most have had services throughout their lives in order to maintain their independence in the community.

Governor Quinn has forgotten that over the past two decades, community disability services have been disproportionately targeted for funding reductions. When compared to what the state paid its own institutions for disability support services, Avenues and its sister organizations have been shortchanged by over 50%. If Illinois had kept pace with needed funding, perhaps the idea of a 6% cut could be tolerated. However, a 6% reduction on top of 50% is untenable. The community system is beginning to show declines as a result of the funding disparity.

On average, starting wages in community programs are now 40% behind those of the state. Shortages in nursing and other clinical staff are rampant; prior to the recession, 50% turnover rates in direct support employees were not uncommon. We can thank the recession for bringing those numbers down, but what happens when things do get better? Some analysts predict that in the competition for qualified direct support staff, community developmental disability organizations will be a big loser. Worse yet, will be the impact on those individuals with disabilities who rely upon these staff every day.

At the least, one would expect the state to share in the overall sacrifice. However, an analysis of wage increases for state employees working with people with disabilities in Illinois institutions, shows from 2009 through 2012, a total cumulative increase of 14.25% not including individual merit increases. By comparison, Avenues employees have not had any cost-of-living or other general increase since 2006. Staring down the barrel of a 6% funding reduction in 2012, community organizations and their employees will be subject to an “unshared sacrifice” once again.

Direct support and other employment related to the support of people with disabilities is an important, demanding profession that needs to be compensated as well as possible. The state knows it needs to pay well in order to attract and retain qualified staff. The same holds true for Avenues and other community disability support organizations. Since both entities are funded by the taxpayers of Illinois, there must be fairness in funding or an equally shared sacrifice. Neither is proposed in the Governor’s FY 2012 budget.

Colleagues of mine have put forth the premise that the funding disparity proposed by Governor Quinn is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other U.S. laws. States are required to provide services in the least restrictive, most appropriate setting for an individual with a disability. Illinois’ funding increases for its institutional system and continued reductions to Avenues and other community services is a blatant, discriminatory attempt to limit the choices that Illinois citizens with disabilities have in obtaining a least restrictive, appropriate setting. Historically, Illinois has made progress only under threat of lawsuit or federal sanction. Stay tuned.

Robert Okazaki, CEO, Avenues to Independence

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