Fox News Chicago

Illinois State Budget Cuts Might Flood Streets With Mentally Ill Homeless

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chicago - With Gov. Quinn preparing to chop hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget Thursday morning, mental health care providers said they were already feeling the pain.

Fox Chicago News learned that, 48 hours before the governor's public announcement, the state sent contracts for the coming fiscal year that cut some providers by up to 34 percent.

Thresholds, Illinois's largest provider of homes for the mentally ill, said it lost $9.2 million in the contract it was told to sign and return by midnight Wednesday. FY2011 begins Thursday and Agency CEO Tony Zipple told us the cuts apparently take effect immediately.

Zipple and his colleagues said that, as a result of the cuts, Thresholds would no longer be able to offer housing to anyone without Medicaid or private insurance. They said that means the working poor would no longer be eligible for the program.

"For any of us, losing our home is a really terrible thing," said Zipple. "But when you have so little to start with, and when you depend on the services that are embedded in this program to stay straight and sane and sober, and you lose it, it's really the end of the world for you."

Forty-four mentally live at the Grais Apartments run by Thresholds. Program director Jane Weller said the state's cuts would force Thresholds to eliminate some psychiatric and other services for residents.

She and Zipple feared that several dozen of the 750 mentally ill housed in Thresholds apartments might be forced out of their homes. She said some would likely wind up back on the street, in hospital emergency rooms or even in jail...places where many of the program's residents have been previously.

Thresholds and other social service agencies across the state are preparing to layoff hundreds of workers. Some haven't been paid by the deadbeat state of Illinois in months and their banks won't lend them any more cash.

Providers like this understand the state is facing a monumental budget, but they argue that cutting social services like the Grais apartments is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach.

"If the people who live here are back on the streets, they will essentially cost the taxpayers more," Thresholds Program Director Jane Weller said.

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Dept of Human Services said DHS hopes the grim budget cut numbers "are not final."
An advisor to Quinn told Fox Chicago News the governor needs to cut more than $1 billion from the budget so that the state does not run out of cash for its own payroll and other vital operations before November.

The significance of that date? It's election month. Some believe the governor might find more support for his proposed income tax increase in the General Assembly after the election.