By Jamey Dunn
UPDATE February 24: Gov. Pat Quinn took questions from reporters in Chicago yesterday on the cuts. See below. Providers of addiction treatment in Illinois say they have stopped taking new patients, and some plan to end programs, such as residential care and detox, as early as Friday.
Eric Foster, chief operating officer for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA), said members of the Quinn administration told treatment providers Friday that the governor plans to cut all state funds for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs not backed by federal Medicaid dollars. According to IADDA, the budget reductions, which they say would come by March 15, would cut off treatment to 55,000 of the 69,000 people currently in the system and result in the layoffs of more than 5,000 workers. Quinn is also proposed substantial cuts to drug and alcohol dependency treatment and prevention programs in his budget for next fiscal year.
Foster said Michelle Saddler, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, confirmed the plan to cut and said that providers would get new contracts spelling out the cuts last Tuesday, but he said the department never followed up with the information.
“Secretary Saddler’s verbal notification immediately triggered a shutdown of intakes, closing the doors to new clients, closures of other addiction prevention and treatment services across the state, and shutdowns of programs serving Illinois’ neediest citizens,” Foster said.
Foster accused Quinn of playing politics with funding to human services — referring to Quinn’s 2009 push for an income tax increase, which at the time he said could prevent draconian cuts to social service providers. “Gov. Quinn promised to save human services if the state passed an income tax increase. We think the governor’s pledge to protect the most vulnerable in Illinois has been a cruel hoax.”
Foster added that addiction treatment and prevention programs have already taken cuts in recent years. He said that in fiscal year 2007, the state served 98,000 people under such programs.
Bruce Suardini, chief operating officer of Prairie Center Health Systems, which has facilities in Urbana, Champaign and Danville, said that organization is “in the midst” of closing its Champaign and Urbana operations, which include a detox center for those dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal. He said that after the facility closes, “there will be no medical detox for any citizens in central Illinois.” He added that the center would lay off 51 of 85 staff members on Friday.
Suardini said his clients walked out of treatment this week because of their frustration over the budget cuts. “Our people walked out of detox and walked out of residential yesterday. We are closing our operations in those services by Friday.”
He added: “We are still awaiting our letters [from the Department of Human Services.] This is the second time that we have disproportionately taken a cut in the budget. … We don’t have much left ... to be able to offer hope to the people that are trying to seek services.”
Bruce Carter, executive director of the Wells Center in Jacksonville, said his treatment center has also stopped admitting new clients and has told people on its waiting list that they would not accept them. Carter said the center plans to close its residential treatment and detox programs by March 22. He said he would have to lay off 40 of his 47-member staff by the end of March.
Kent Holsopple, administrator of the Springfield office for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, which provides addiction treatment for people who are in the state’s criminal justice system or corrections system, said he has clients who have been sentenced to treatment that are waiting in jail because TASC cannot take them. “We talk about it being a cut. It would essentially eliminate community-based treatment centers.”
Allen Sandusky, president and chief executive officer of the South Suburban Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, said overdue payments from the state leave his organization little wiggle room in its budget. “Since the state currently owes us $1.9 million of our $3.2 million contract, we do not have the financial resources nor the cash resources to really handle any short-term emergencies.” He said he would have to lay off 90 of his 105-person staff to make up for the cuts.
Foster said because providers have not yet received new contracts from the Department of Human Services, he hopes there is still room for negotiation.
Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jim Watson have introduced a nonbinding resolution urging the governor not to make the cuts. “Instead of coming after human services dollars all the time — this is a fire drill that this sector of government is consistently being run through all the time — we need to take a look at balancing our systems for a more cost-effective way of delivering services. Putting people in prison is clearly not the answer. We should be doing just the opposite.”
Lawmakers can do little more than pass a resolution because they signed over budgeting powers to Quinn when they passed him a lump sum budget for the current fiscal year, leaving it up to the governor to make cuts. The General Assembly approved extending Quinn’s special budgeting powers until the current fiscal year ends in June.
Feigenholtz said she was unsure if extending those powers, a move that she voted to support, was allowing Quinn to make the cuts to addiction treatment and prevention. She said she thinks Quinn simply “ran out of money.” She said she hopes legislators will never pass a lump sum budget again.
Inquires to Quinn’s budgeting office and the Department of Human Services about the cuts and Quinn’s budgeting powers were not returned.
UPDATE: “We have to have an ongoing dialogue about how to get through this fiscal year,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference.
Quinn said the General Assembly left the difficult budgeting decisions up to him when they passed the lump-sum budget. “I really believe in dialogue and listening to all of those who have points of view on this. We’ll get through this fiscal year and on to the next one.”
He added that some human service providers could see cuts, but he would not confirm the reports of drastic reductions planned for next month. “Some of them may have economies that we have to make. This is hard and difficult. … I don’t want to harm one area of important life in Illinois, like human services. But at the same time, I[‘ve] got to maintain education and public safety.”