Access Living Response to Governor Rauner’s State of the State

Governor Rauner must end the budget impasse now

As the Center for Independent Living that serves people with disabilities in Chicago, Access Living has honored contracts with the State of Illinois. Other disability agencies and non-profits across Illinois have also continued to provide services in the face of the budget impasse. While agencies continue to deliver services in order to meet the needs of underserved populations, Illinois has failed to fulfill its end of the contract. In Governor Rauner’s State of the State address on January 27, the Governor gave no indication that this would change. Access Living and the consumers who gathered to watch the State of the State were disappointed that the Governor did not address the impact of the budget impasse on the social safety net and on people with disabilities.

In 2015, working with disability advocates, disability organizations and disabilities allies across the state, Access Living fought to preserve Illinois services that support the health and independence of people with disabilities. With Illinois still in the midst of a budget impasse, the fight will continue in 2016.

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 1999 U.S. Olmstead Supreme Court Ruling, people with disabilities have the right to live in their own homes in integrated communities instead of institutions,” said Marca Bristo, President & CEO of Access Living. “Yet, the support for people with disabilities in the community continues to be at risk.” In 2015, the disability community was forced to fight to preserve the Home Services program. The Home Services program was one of many disability programs in Illinois that faced reductions or elimination. Judging from the State of the State on January 27, the struggle to protect programs that support people in their own homes will continue in 2016.

Illinois has continued to fund consent decrees throughout the Illinois Budget Impasse. This includes three court mandated consent decrees that enforce the transition the transition of people with disabilities out of institutions and into community-based settings. According to a news story from early January, “one of his (Governor Rauner’s) goals for his second year will be to remove court orders and consent decrees that obligate the state to spend billions on services and programs, (The News-Gazette, January 11, 2016).” In his State of the State on January 27, Governor Rauner hinted that he wanted to get out from under the consent decrees. The removal of consent decrees is a threat to the independence and rights of the thousands of people with disabilities in Illinois who remain unnecessarily institutionalized. “The legal system is there for a reason,” said Amber Smock, Director of Advocacy for Access Living. “The governor can’t pick and choose which civil rights he wants to uphold.”

In 2015, Access Living provided direct services to 1,895 people with disabilities in Chicago, equipping them with resources and skills to live independently. Access Living is one of 22 Centers for Independent Living in Illinois that provide similar services. In FY 16, the 22 Centers for Independent Living were due to receive $4.8 million in State Funding. This has not been fully paid. Across Illinois, centers have been forced to take out lines of credit, institute furlough days, lay-off staff, and close their doors, leaving people with disabilities without critical resources.

Recently, Access Living launched a long-term care Ombudsman Program, which staffs advocates who address health care matters for people with disabilities who live in the community. With no State Budget, funding for the Ombudsman Program has frozen, which has forced Access Living to lay-off Ombudsman staff, reduce services within the program, and dip into spending reserves.

Also, Access Living’s Deflection Program decreases long-term admission of people with disabilities into nursing facilities. Illinois funding for this program has also been frozen.

Because there are no state payments for Center for Independent Living program, the Ombudsman Program, and the Deflection Program, Access Living is forced to spend $60,000 in reserve funding every month. “$60,000 a month is unstainable,” Bristo said. “Governor Rauner must end the budget impasse now.”

The devastating impact of the Illinois Budget Impasse is being felt by tens of thousands of people with disabilities.

• In the mental health community, state funding for mental health and other behavioral health services in Illinois has been plummeting. As one example, the Kenneth Young Center, a non-profit mental health and senior service provider located in the northwest suburbs, had its budget cut by $500,000 and lost funding for psychiatric care due to the state budget crisis.

• Regarding developmental disabilities, more than 22,000 people with disabilities remain on the PUNS Waiting List, waiting for community-based services.

• Recent mass layoffs in the CPS - Central Office greatly impacted the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services, which lost up to 60 positions, including 70% of the staff on the transition team.

• According the Illinois Area Agencies on Aging, if the budget impasse continues, more than 9,000 people will lose transportation services, more than 2,000 will lose legal assistance, and more than 1,600 would be forced to enter a nursing home.

Access Living supports a solution that generates revenue and that ensures the Illinois State Budget addresses its liabilities, prevents damaging cuts to community based services, and allows community-based services to grow according to need and demand. Community–based services that support the independence of people with disabilities are necessary for the fiscal rebound of Illinois. They make economic sense and they make common sense.

For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 voice, 773-425-2536 (mobile) garnold@accessliving.org