Centers for Independent Living mobilize in Springfield against budget cuts

Mike, Jackie and Scott in the Capitol Rotunda
“People with disabilities are going to fight to hold on to services that we need to live in our own homes and communities,” said Amber Smock, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago’s Director of Advocacy. Access Living is one of 23 Centers for Independent Living in Illinois. Each center faces significant budget cuts under Governor Quinn's proposed Fiscal Year 2012 Budget. Access Living, like the other centers around Illinois, provides services that empower people with disabilities to live in their own homes and neighborhoods. “Without those services, people will be forced into institutions,” Smock continued. “Governor Quinn may think his cuts save money. But for every person who has to move into a nursing home because the right community services are not available, the state will end up paying more money than it saved.”

Currently, the State of Illinois' FY 2012 Budget includes a 36% cut to centers for independent living. On March 15, more than 70 Access Living staff and consumers joined other centers in Springfield as part of a statewide advocacy day. The centers rallied in the Capitol Rotunda then attended committee meetings, and met with State legislators.

Access Living called on State Legislators to protect funding that supports services that help people with disabilities live in their own homes and communities.

In addition to cuts that target centers for independent living, the proposed State budget eliminates the Community Reintegration Program, which transitions people out of nursing homes and into their own homes. Also, deep Human Services cuts eliminate services for people with physical, developmental and psychiatric disabilities. Similar to cuts to Centers for Independent Living and the Community Reintegration Program, Human Service cuts will limit community-based resources for people with disabilities.

“We understand that politicians need to cut spending,” said Kevin McPhan, an Access Living advocate who participated in the lobby day and who utilizes services in order to live independently. “But behind every cut to home services, there is person who will lose out on the help they need to live in their own homes. The answer is not to cut programs that hurt the independence of people. The answer is to rebalance a system that currently favors institutional care.” On average, institutional care costs three times more than home based care.

Access Living and other centers argue that rebalancing the system of long-term care in Illinois falls in line with recent settlements of cases in Illinois brought to enforce the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Olmstead ruling found that the unjustified institutionalization of people with disabilities is a form of discrimination. As a result of two recent settlements, Illinois has committed to helping thousands of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities transition from institutions to the community. Access Living worries that the current cuts will undermine the State’s commitments.

Along with cuts, the State will also limit eligibility to the Home Services Program, which gives people with disabilities access to personal assistants, who help out with day to day tasks around the home, like cooking, bathing, dressing and cleaning. In the new budget, home services will be limited to Medicaid recipients. The cut will prevent people who might be able to work from pursuing employment because they would risk losing services that allow them to live in the community.

“We were happy for the opportunity to meet with legislators,” Smock said. “We want to work with them to find a way to make budget fixes that save money and offer economical services in the community, instead of budget cuts that threaten independence and waste money.”