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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Decimation" Of Human Services Seen In Illinois Gov Quinn 2012 Budget Pitch | article & Video: Progress Illinois

"Decimation" Of Human Services Seen In Quinn Budget Pitch | Progress Illinois

*Gov. Pat Quinn released his budget proposal today, which relies on cuts to human services, education, and other state programs*

A wave of anxiety about the future of services for children, the poor, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations in Illinois rippled across the state today as Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 became public.

"For me the headline is the decimation of human services," said Larry Joseph, the top budget analyst for Voices For Illinois Children. The Department of Human Service (DHS) is getting hit like "no other state agency," he said. Joseph had just started combing through the proposal but he said many social service providers could lose entire or big portions of their General Revenue Fund dollars. Addiction services, he said, is proposed for a 50 percent cut relative to the state's FY2011 budget, but that number will be 70 percent below the 2009 level.

The Illinois Alcoholism Drug Dependence Association says more than 18,928 residents of Illinois, including more than 9,800 people in Cook County, will lose assistance if the addiction service cuts are sustained.

"The programs that were hit the hardest in DHS were for the most part programs not tied to federal requirements or federal mandates," Joseph said.

Some of the biggest cuts Quinn suggests in his opening bid for the state's next budget (PDF) fall on health care spending for some of the state's poorest residents, including a reduction in Medicaid reimbursement rates by $552 million and the elimination of Illinois Cares Rx, which helps seniors and people with disabilities purchase prescriptions, to save $107 million.

The $52.7 billion spending plan also proposes slashing state support for school transportation by $95 million, eliminating a Department on Aging program that assists seniors with taxes and drug costs to realize $24 million in savings, cutting $14 million in funds for regional education offices, and a range of smaller reductions. Quinn sees future savings in school district consolidation as well.

The cuts are likely on their way in spite of the tax hike deal General Assembly Democrats struck last month; this afternoon House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said an additional $720 million in reductions are needed. Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said the budget pitch and the cuts it foresees were predictable, given the structure of the state's tax system. "You can't lay this at the governor's feet," he said. "If you have a fiscal system that doesn't support current level of expenditures ... you've got to do something. He tried to mimimize the pain these cuts will cause. But you can't really minimize some of these cuts. They're really, really harmful." Illinois remains a relatively low-income tax state with an inefficient sales tax code, CTBA and other budget reformers have pointed out repeatedly, for years. The tax hike helped stabilize the state's fiscal outlook, but it did not resolve those two issues.

The Sargent Shriver National Center On Poverty Law President John Bouman told Progress Illinois that his initial reaction to today's news was that cuts must be balanced and shared, emphasizing that the governor and General Assembly must find ways to spare programs that prevent higher costs down the road.

A critical part of the next budget is actually a separate bill Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has already introduced. SB 3 authorizes state government to borrow $8.75 billion and use the money to immediately pay down much of its outstanding debt to social service providers, vendors, universities, and government agencies. By skipping payments to them, state government has essentially treated such organizations as involuntary lenders, at a high cost to the state's bottom line; Quinn said today that bids come in 6 percent to 10 percent higher than normal, since vendors expect late payments as a matter of course.

Members of the Republican leadership have thus far rejected the plan, calling instead for more unspecified spending cuts. They've got enough seats in the senate to prevent the Democratic caucus from approving SB 3 outright. Quinn today called on the GOP to get on board, saying "If you don’t agree with our debt restructuring plan, tell us which programs you would eliminate to pay $8.7 billion in overdue bills today." He went on:

Uploaded by ProgressIllinois on Feb 16, 2011

Quinn did call on lawmakers to increase funding for need-based student aid and employee training in his speech today. Workers compensation reform got a brief mention. And the governor raised an interesting signal about a broader reform of the state's tax code. Take a look at this part of his speech:

Uploaded by ProgressIllinois on Feb 16, 2011

Another tax reform package, however, is likely to be subsumed by the immediate political and legislative reality of crafting a budget that relies on a borrowing plan Republicans don't support.

As the process unfolds in Springfield, groups across the state will be trying to ascertain the consequences of diminished state committments to various services.

Martire said that cutting rates for facilities serving Medicaid patients will stress the state's health care system noting that 30 percent of the current population is already uninsured or uses Medicaid to access care. Bouman predicted some medical institutions could start taking fewer Medicaid patients or simply stop accepting them altogether.

"It should be accompanied by a promise to get it back to where it was as soon as possible," he said of the reimbursement cut idea.

The Illinois Hospital Association released this statement, meanwhile, about the prospect of its member facilities getting less for taking in poorer patients:

Making such deep cuts will pose serious challenges to many financially fragile hospitals, which are already struggling to survive. With hospitals being squeezed between higher costs – for labor, new technology and medical liability – and inadequate revenues during the current economic downturn, their ability to continue to perform the critical role of serving their patients and their communities will be seriously jeopardized by Medicaid rate reductions.

"This was to be expected, that human services would bear the brunt of budget cuts," Martire said. "There's a pretty simple reason for that. Although human services provide really critical support to the most vulnerable populations in Illinois ... they don't have universal political appeal."

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