Tuesday, April 12, 2011

DHS director to lawmakers: No more human services cuts

By Lauren N. Johnson

Because the Illinois Senate and House do not agree on how much money the state has to spend, human services providers fear that cuts could be even deeper than those Gov. Pat Quinn called for in his budget proposal.

The Illinois Department of Human Services today asked a Senate budgeting committee for $3.27 billion in state general revenue funds for next year, the amount Quinn calls for in his budget plan. That request is nearly 11 percent less than the $3.66 billion allotted to human services for the current fiscal year.

However, the department may see an even larger reduction because of differing estimates from the House and Senate of how much money the state has to work with next year. The House is working off of the smallest revenue estimate of about $33.2 billion, while Quinn and the Senate are both using projections closer to $34 billion.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who chairs the House Human Services Appropriations Committee, said she thinks that if the House and Senate cannot agree on a number, a conference committee -- used to smooth out bills that differ in the two chambers -- would likely settle on a figure between the two spending proposals.

Michelle Saddler, secretary of the Department of Human Services, said she hopes an alternative can be found to cutting the budget beyond Quinn’s numbers. “We have some very difficult cuts in the budget as we’re all dealing with this issue of fiscal realities. We know that there’s not enough money. We know that the governor had to make very painful decisions, and we’re seeing that in the introduced budget.”Saddler said more than 13 programs have already been eliminated since the governor’s proposal in February.

In terms of the impact moving forward, she said the worst of the cuts under the governor’s budget are in the divisions of alcoholism and substance abuse, and in the areas of community health and disease prevention. She said those programs lessen future costs for the state and that the governor has expressed to her his openness to  alternatives other than the large cuts. “Those are areas where we have relatively small dollar investment but with large payback over time. These are areas where if you invest a dollar now, you prevent, say, $13 or $17 of expenses in the future,” Saddler said.

Under Quinn’s proposal, the state would not cover most addiction or mental health services for people who are not eligible for Medicaid. The money the state spends on these services for Medicaid patients is backed by a federal matching funds. Representatives of both communities said the move would be devastating to thousands of Illinois residents.

Frank Anselmo, chief executive officer of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, suggested to lawmakers that they prioritize spending to avoid what he called continued disproportionate cuts to community care. “The governor’s proposed budget for [addiction prevention and treatment programs and mental health programs] is a 43 percent cut within a two year cycle to community care. That’s not shared sacrifice, in fact I’d be happy to share the sacrifice,” Anselmo said,  “because we’ve slashed community services to a point where in some communities, we’re not going to have a system at all,”

Eric Foster, chief operating officer for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, said such a move would eliminate addiction treatment for about 55,000 Illinois residents, and 230,000 youth would lose prevention programs."From 2008, we were just under $120 million in state non-Medicaid dollars. The FY 12 budget would reduce it to nothing. We have seen significant decreases between 2008 to today regarding state funding."

Saddler said her department is already facing bigger cuts under the governor’s budget than some other areas of government, and the legislature should not seek to make those reductions larger. “We should not be looking at any additional cuts to DHS. There’ve been difficult choices, and human services is being cut disproportionately to many other areas.”

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