The waiting list we told you about in June in Illinois Issues magazine could get worse if the General Assembly doesn’t override the governor’s recent veto of more than $43 million from community-based treatment programs for substance abusers.
The budget cuts could cause layoffs, program closures and “insurmountable” waiting lists for services, said Keith Kuhn, community director at Gateway Foundation in Springfield. The trickle-down effect would reach emergency rooms, mental health services, prisons and courts.
“A lot of the progress that we’ve been making in Illinois in trying to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated for addiction-related issues, a lot of those gains will be lost,” Kuhn said during a Statehouse news conference this afternoon. “And that would be a real shame that we had invested that much time, money and effort to only take significant steps back.” He described such a system as “barbaric” in the way it would approach addiction-related services.
Kuhn said the governor’s cuts reduce state funding for addiction treatment services in half, from $86.6 million to $43.3 million. “When factoring in other areas also receiving funding reductions, the cuts to our existing treatment service system total a little over $55 million.” Specific programs include those for domestic violence, youth in the court systems and temporary assistance for needy families. And once the state funding depletes, federal matching funds also decrease. So the effect doubles from $55 million to $110 million, he said, adding that amounts to about half of the $252 million total budget for substance abuse services.
Unlike other state programs where the governor simply erased the increases above last year’s funding levels, the cuts for some substance abuse prevention and treatment programs were “zeroed out,” or erased completely, said Peggy Powers, chief operating officer of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association in Springfield. “This is gutting what was actually awarded during FY08.”
“The fact that it’s cut from the base of the FY08 funding level is something that has not occurred wholesale in any other programming,” she said. “We don’t know how the addiction treatment system came into the crosshairs of the governor’s cutting ax, but it certainly has, and it’s an incredibly crucial item.”
There’s some skepticism that the governor’s budget cuts target the particularly sensitive area of substance abuse to grab attention and to further apply pressure on the House Democratic leadership to approve funding mechanisms that would prevent these cuts. The governor’s budget office did not return my phone call this afternoon.
The House is scheduled to come back to Springfield Tuesday through Thursday to consider the governor’s budget cuts and attempt to override some of them. Some items that were reduced require a simple majority of 60 votes. Other items that were cut out require 71 votes to be restored.
Some could be restored under a revised revenue idea in the House that would allow the governor to sweep about $300 million from special dedicated funds and pad the state’s general fund. But it has potential to get complicated when the House Democrats likely tie those so-called fund sweeps to specific program areas — possibly such human services as substance abuse treatment and prevention.
Fund sweeps wouldn’t guarantee funding. The Senate would have to approve the revenue idea, as well as any overrides of the governor’s veto. But the Senate so far isn’t planning to come back before November. That could change.
November would be too late, according to Kuhn, who said agency offices would have to close or take on huge debt to stay open before then.
Many other groups also are worrying that the budget cuts would hinder current and future services. The Child Care Association of Illinois issued a press release saying a $45 million cut will affect services for abused and neglected children and foster parents. The Partners for Parks and Wildlife, including members of the Sierra Club, the Illinois Association Park Districts and the Nature Conservancy, will join forces to fight a 20 percent funding decrease for the state Department of Natural Resources. The group projects a loss of 163 jobs and zero out funding for the Water Supply Planning and Management Program and the Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria.