Key Update: Illinois Budget Begins Moving

Below is a budget update from Amber Smock, Access Living’s Director of Advocacy

We hope all of you had a very good Memorial Day weekend. Key actions have begun in the state budget process and we wanted to provide you with an update. Illinois lawmakers spent their Memorial Day returning to Springfield as session started in the afternoon and is projected to go nonstop all the way through May 31.

Yesterday, the Illinois House and Senate began moving a number of legislative bills that contain many of the pieces of the final Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which is set to begin on July 1 of this year. The goal of moving these bills is to get them passed by May 31, which is technically the last day of the spring legislative session. Once they are passed, they would go to the desk of Governor Rauner, who has the option of a) signing and approving them outright, b) vetoing part of them or c) vetoing all of them. This could take a good part of the summer.

The budget process right now is being led by the Democrats in the legislature, who hold the majority. The bill package they have proposed is apparently $3 billion more than the state allegedly has to spend, which is causing a ruckus. Essentially, the Democrats are handing the Governor the budget they want and making it his responsibility to either come up with revenue to pay for it, or taking a knife to funds that keep our state running and our social safety net in place. This is major political hardball given that the Governor is demanding that the legislature approve some policies he wants or else he will not help on the budget. More on the situation can be read at this link .

What does the Democratic budget package mean for people with disabilities? A number of programs would experience relatively small cuts, which is a compromise on the Governor’s demand for cuts to balance the budget. The Home Services Program would experience a $4 million cut, or a 2.25% cut. Centers for Independent Living as a whole would experience a cut of $98,700, or 2.25%. The Community Care Program is expected to get a very slight increase. The Community Reintegration Program would experience a 2.25% cut also. Pace paratransit would have a cut of $105,200, or less than 1% cut. These amounts would hopefully mean those programs would be preserved. However it all depends on if the Governor chooses to sign off on these programs as is.

The budget package also contains a wide range of services for people with specific disabilities, including mental health services and developmental disabilities services. Leaders in those fields are working out what the budget bills mean for their areas. Community mental health services, for one, seem to be mostly preserved. There are also programs that are “hidden” within larger budget items, such as the Emergency Back-up Personal Attendant Program and the respite program for families of people with developmental disabilities. It is very hard to tell at this point if they will be cut. The main point is to preserve the overall funding so cuts won’t happen to smaller programs.

The budget process is a very long road every year, and this week will be an important week to see what will develop. All of you who have taken action have done a SPECTACULAR JOB of getting out there and making your voice heard, because what we hear from legislators is that they do know what people with disabilities want and need to stay in the community. The budget bills reflect that. Don’t lose heart; just keep fighting to preserve the programs you need and we will do our best to provide action alerts as needed. We just have to keep it up as the budget prepares to pass from the legislature to the Governor.

Let’s go Illinois!

Amber Smock
Director of Advocacy, Access LIving