Illinois is planning devastating cuts to services for individuals with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities. These cuts target our most vulnerable citizens and are being sold as a way to balance Illinois' estimated $13 billion deficit. The truth is, these cuts are short sighted and will send us on a path of destruction.
Illinois ranks last in the nation for supporting citizens with disabilities in their home communities. Disability services that are the lifeline to more than 220,000 people with disabilities and their families have already experienced deep cuts and are hanging by a thread. In addition to funding reductions several critical programs are being eliminated and it's estimated that 3,052 direct care staff will be laid off as a result.
The budget has the wrong priorities and the process is flawed.
There are currently three budget proposals on the table, one each from the governor, the state House and the state Senate.
The House's estimate of revenues is about $1.1 billion lower than that from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), a bipartisan agency with a proven track record of making accurate revenue projections. Using CGFA's reasonable estimate of revenues could save critical disability programs.
The Senate's proposed budget disproportionately impacts individuals with disabilities by prioritizing programs that do not maximize taxpayer dollars.
The Governor's budget appropriates $30 million to state institutions and cuts community based services by $76.3 million even though numerous studies prove community services are safer, more effective and efficient. Four people can be served in a community setting for every one person in an institution.
Furthermore, the proposed budgets do nothing to address the backlog in payments owed to disability service providers. Some have been forced to shut their doors and others are on the brink of collapse because the state is six months behind in making payments.
The disabled community cannot withstand additional cuts. The proposed budgets deepen the gap to accessible disability services and do nothing to address the 21,000 people on the waiting list. None of the proposed budgets does anything for those who are desperately waiting for state services.
Most people would agree that services to help people with disabilities live life with independence, equality and dignity are the kind of programs that are worthy of taxpayer funds. That is what our society was built on. We must provide assistance to help those who truly and desperately need it. It's not a hand out it's common decency. Now it's up to our lawmakers to make the right choices.
Tony Paulauski is the executive director of The Arc of Illinois
Photo: At a protest against proposed cuts in LIHEAP funding, March 2. Disabled Americans, who already see 70-80 percent unemployment rates, would be further victimized by the GOP plan to cut LIHEAP funds. Teresa Albano/PW