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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Illinois Disability Service Center Could Close Without State Funding Due To Illinois Budget Impasse

Nick was having a rough go of things. He was sick, he broke his leg and he ended up on disability, stuck in a nursing home.  Nick, who asked that his last name be withheld, said he would still be in that nursing home if not for the help from the Illinois Valley Center for Independent Living in La Salle.

article by Brett Herrmann | NewsTribune  | Sept. 22, 2015
Through their assistance, Nick relearned to walk, he found an apartment and he found the resources needed to take care of himself, once again becoming a contributing member to the community, which he attributes to hard work and the assistance he received from IVCIL.

In three months, that assistance may be gone. Illinois’ budget freeze is putting the fate of IVCIL in limbo.

IVCIL is now in its 16th year. It provides various programs that help people with disabilities in the area such as youth service programs, equipment loan programs, mobile meals and personal assistants, all of which are geared toward helping people live comfortably on their own. IVCIL currently services 70 active consumers, all people with disabilities, in five counties.

IVCIL has seen its budget shrink yearly since its inception. Staff always has worked through it.
“There have been various cuts and we’ve dealt with it. You have to deal with it in any way you can to provide services for people with disabilities,” Szuda said.

Since June 30, IVCIL has not received any of its funding from the state of Illinois. The non-profit organization relies on the state for 86 percent of its funding.

“For the 16 years we’ve been here, we’ve managed with budget cuts, but to not have a budget has never been dealt with before,” Szuda said.

“There’s nothing to manage,” added Lesley Gonigam, associate director.

For the past 11 weeks, IVCIL has been relying on reserve funding, collected over the years, to stay open. But the reserves are expected to run out within the next three months.

“Within a few months, we will not have any reserves and the bottom line is we would have to close our doors,” Szuda said. “It sickens me that we have to be put in this position because our legislatures can’t act.”

IVCIL is at a standstill with the state government, waiting for funding that may not come in time. They have been in contact with state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) about the budget. She said that 90 percent of the state budget has already been paid out. IVCIL, unfortunately, is in the last 10 percent.

“With our legislators, it’s like a chess match and no one wants to make any moves. The game doesn’t get played and the people that provide services aren’t getting paid to help do their job,” Szuda said.

“But it’s not a game. They’re gambling with peoples lives and it’s the people with disabilities that will be losing,” Gonigam said. “Yet they keep telling us to operate as if nothing is wrong.”

IVCIL is under contract with the state of Illinois to provide services for people with disabilities. If they don’t perform, they don’t get their funding. However, they have been continuing their work despite the state not funding them.

“They want us to abide by the terms of the contract but they are not abiding by the contract when they don’t pay us,” Gonigam said.

Szuda will have to make some tough monetary decisions in the coming weeks. He questions whether or not he will have to lay people off, take furlough days, cut staffing or discontinue programs and there is no easy way to decide.

“None of these programs are any more important than the other,” Szuda said.

“And we can’t afford to lay off half of our staff and keep going,” Gonigam added.

They have seen how the other 21 centers in Illinois have been affected. The Sterling-Rock Falls center has already closed. Other centers have had to lay-off employees and take furlough days where they cease operation a day or two to save money.

IVCIL has six full-time and two part-time staff members with one intern. Marla Michalak, IVCIL’s youth advocate, says they are having a hard time keeping up with the demands of the area, which continue to increase.

“I have 30 consumers and I am behind by six calls right now on people needing help,” Michalak said. “I can’t even keep up know let alone if we had to take one furlough day.”

Sarah Revell, the community reintegration coordinator, is cautious to make any moves until she is certain of IVCIL’s fate. The reintegration program focuses on removing people with disabilities under the age of 60 from nursing homes.

“I’ve got people lined up to move out (of nursing homes) but I’m leery to move them out because what is going to happen to them when we do close?” Revell said. “And it’s not fair to them to keep them waiting.”

Revell said reintegration is at least a year-long process and a lot of hard work. If people were moved out of nursing homes and then left hanging on reintegration services, they would likely end up back in nursing homes.

“It costs them less to live in their own homes compared to nursing homes,” Revell said.

Because their clients rely on disability payments and Medicaid, the state is the one losing money if they end up in nursing homes. Nursing home stays can cost up to $5,000 a month compared to $1,200 a month for a client to live independently, Revell said. If they were not in homes, not only would they have more freedom, but they would be active consumers in the community with the ability to make purchases.

“Financially it doesn’t make sense to us, what’s going on, because we are saving the state money,” Gonigam said.

If the center does close, Gonigam said they would not be able to just pick up where it left off.

“It’s not that easy, because we have federal contracts, we have state contracts, we receive funding from United Way. When our funding is gone, it could be gone if we stop providing those services. It could never come back. We don’t know.” she said.

So, the employees have been doing what they can. They continue their work and are trying to bring awareness to their situation.

“We just can’t sit by anymore. We’re facing this and our consumers are in jeopardy of losing services. We can’t stay quiet anymore,” Michalak said.

State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), who was a key player in establishing IVCIL 16 years ago, said that it could take about 60 days for service providers to see their money if a budget is finally passed. But there is no telling when that will be. He said they can’t negotiate a new budget until the governor is back at the table.

“I think it’s time he gets away from non-economic items and gets back to the budget,” Mautino said. “We’ve gone three months without a budget; that’s too long.”

Szuda said he hopes legislators can work as hard on the budget as IVCIL’s clients do to maintain their self-sufficient lifestyle.

“Show us the same determination that our consumers are showing to live independently,” he said.

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