Dust still settling on additional state budget cuts

Thursday, August 05, 2010

SPRINGFIELD - State aid to some college students, money for community human service providers and staffing at the Department of Children and Family Services all came under Gov. Pat Quinn's budget knife this week as he completed making $1.4 billion in cuts to the state budget.

But the dust has yet to settle on the entire $861 million in additional cuts outlined by the Quinn administration.

A case in point is the $515 million reduction Quinn made in funding for non-Medicaid programs for mental health, developmental disabilities and rehabilitative services.

Department of Human Services spokesman Tom Green said that is state money that goes to community-based providers that deliver services on behalf of the state, such as the Triangle Center in Springfield, which helps people combat substance abuse.

"I don't believe all of the details have been ironed out on that yet," Green said. "Some negotiations with providers are still going on."

The director of Triangle Center could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The latest numbers also call for a $60 million reduction in operations costs for Department of Human Services facilities.

"There will be some reduction through attrition in staff at (developmentally disabled) and mental health centers," Green said. "Decisions have to be made. The goal is to not impact direct-care services."

Overall, Quinn called for $576 million in general fund cuts to DHS. That will leave the agency's general fund budget at a little less than $3.8 billion.

Group home funding restored

If there was good news for DHS, Quinn restored funding for small group homes for people with mental illness. When Quinn first announced cuts last month, the homes were on the chopping block, along with all other non-Medicaid programs.

"There was such a clamor that it appears they are going to reverse that," said Don Moss, a longtime lobbyist for human service issues.

Moss said he, too, was still trying to determine just what the latest round of cuts will mean, but it wasn't encouraging.

"What I know so far is the fact that a combination of whatever cuts they make and delayed payments is going to cause severe problems for community agencies," Moss said. "I thought we were reaching the worst of the cuts. Now it seems to be compounding."

Moss said he is particularly concerned about apparent cuts to a non-Medicaid program that provides respite care to families that care for a disabled member at home.

"It appears it will be severely cut or eliminated," he said.

That could force more people into institutions, he said.

"That's a horrible thought," Moss said.

Slower hiring at DCFS

Staffing levels also will be an issue at the Department of Children and Family Services. Meeting a goal to cut $4.3 million from operations means the agency will take time to fill vacancies, even if the budget authorizes hirings.

"Positions that were budgeted to be filled will be filled later in the year," DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said.

The jobs involve support staff, not caseworkers or investigators, he said.

The agency also is reducing the money spent on outside contracts for training and consultation services, he said.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is listed for a $208 million cut in "Medicaid lines and group insurance." The administration said this will be achieved by enacting "various quality and efficiency initiatives."

Just what those are isn't clear.

"HFS is still working with the governor's office on specific actions to meet those goals," said spokeswoman Stacey Solano in an e-mailed response to questions.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is working with the administration to identify ways the state can save millions in the administration of employee health insurance. That stems from an agreement with the administration earlier this year to avoid layoffs and facility closures.

College student cuts

College students will bear the brunt of some of the cuts. Quinn is cutting $9 million from grants that are not part of the Monetary Award Program.

Mike Baumgartner, executive deputy director of the Board of Higher Education, said the cuts affect 10 programs, including a $1 million reduction to the Illinois Future Teacher Corps, $500,000 cut from the Minority Teachers of Illinois program and a $300,000 reduction to a program that helps students who want to be nurse educators.

Quinn also cut $3 million from Illinois Veterans Grants and $2.2 million from the Illinois National Guard Grant program, according to figures provided by the board. Both programs provide partial reimbursement to public colleges and universities for students participating in the programs.

However, Baumgartner noted that students who receive those benefits are entitled to them regardless of whether the state appropriates money for the programs.