During the Spring 2013 Legislative Session, Access Living Advocates spent a lot of time in Springfield raising awareness around issues critical to independence and inclusion for people with disabilities in Illinois. Below is an update from Access Living’s Director of Advocacy Amber Smock. The update covers some legislative highlights and set backs from the Spring session.
Amber Smock (right) speaking at a rally at the State of Illinois Building
Dear Access Living friends and allies,
It has been a very long spring legislative session down in Springfield this year. Our state legislators ended their session on Friday last week with mixed results. We are very appreciative of all our grassroots advocates, our staff and our allies who went all out to work with legislators on issues that matter to people with disabilities.
Here are some highlights!
• Despite dire predictions of enormous budget cuts to human services, funding for Centers for Independent Living was only cut by about 1%. Funding for the Community Reintegration Program was also only cut by 1%.
• Funding for the Home Services Program and the Community Care Program were both increased by several million, due to the work of a cross section of consumer and worker advocates.
• SB 26, the Medicaid expansion bill, will now provide Medicaid benefit for more than 600,000 qualifying Illinoisans.
• The Employment First bill passed, which would ensure that any person with a disability receiving vocational help from the state must have the option of competitive, integrated employment FIRST (rather than, say, sheltered workshops). This bill passed due to the efforts of several groups, including AL's own DAWWN, the Arc and the Family Support Network.
• 172 Access Living consumer advocacy trips were made to Springfield to advocate on our issues, over a course of nine group train expeditions.
• We visited more than 20 legislators in their district offices thanks to the efforts of intern Curtis Harris.
• Our consumer advocates worked with Amtrak to improve seating options for people who use wheelchairs or scooters. They succeeded in working to have up to 10 people in wheelchairs per train go to Springfield on our trips to advocate with legislators.
• Wheelchair repair: a coalition of advocates, including AL, succeeded in having the law amended to limit the requirement for prior authorization on wheelchair repairs to those repairs costing $400 or more. Also, the state is now required to process prior authorization requests for wheelchair repairs within one business day.
• Permanent supportive housing saw an increase of $1 million over the Governor's proposed budget. Kudos to PSH advocates.
Here are some "lowlights"...
• SB 26 wound up with an amendment attached to it which would give Institutes for Mental Disease (IMDs) in the new category of State Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities (SMHRFs) $94 million to provide long term psychiatric settings with fewer restrictions. While some view this as an opportunity to reform IMDs, AL's position is that an IMD is an IMD and should not be viewed as a long term care opportunity.
• The legislature was not able to put together a pension agreement that would allow our state's budget to heal. Legislators are promising to continue to work on this.
• AL advocates had also helped fight to fix the definition for pricing power wheelchairs, but this did not move forward. Solving the problem of getting people good, timely durable medical equipment will remain an item under discussion for this summer.
So, we have lots of work to do still, but overall we held fairly steady this spring in advocating on disability issues. We are looking forward to working with legislators over the summer on critical unaddressed issues. Thank you to all our friends and allies who helped participate in our struggle!
Director of Advocacy, Access Living