by Janet Stover
Posted on Jul 13 2015 8:31AM CST
In all the years I’ve testified before committees of the General
Assembly I don’t believe I’ve ever used the phrase – you can’t balance the
budget on the backs of people with disabilities and mental illnesses. I think
it conjures an unsavory image and honestly, I’ve never believed decisions were
made that intentionally brought harm to people. Made it harder – yes. Limited
access – yes. Diminished the ability to enhance people’s lives – yes. Unfairly
overburdened providers and families – yes. But targeted people with
disabilities – no. Until June 25.
When we were notified that the Division of DD (DDD) had made the legal
decision to rescind the Personal Needs Allowance (PNA) increase for people
living in community residential settings I was incensed. The increase put $30
more dollars a month in the pockets of people living in CILAs and $10 more
dollars a month in the pockets of those living in private ICFDDs. It was the
first increase for CILA residents in 20 years and the first for ICFDD residents
in 27 years.
When IARF led our substantive legislative agenda in 2014 with the
Personal Needs Allowance increase, it was within the context of increasing
focus on integration of individuals into their communities – allowing them more
independence in the choices of their place of residence and their activities.
When it passed, it was a feel-good moment. A seemingly small but significantly
important success for people our members support.
So, the decision by the Division of DD to rescind it didn’t sit well. We
tried to convince the Department to reconsider their decision. We have visited
the issue with the Governor’s office. I was finally informed that for budgetary
reasons the decision would stand.
Let’s put some context around the impact of the PNA increase to the DHS
budget. The increase “costs” about $3 million a year (built into base spending
after the first year) and increases the buying power of about 16,000 people. I
say "costs" because what the increase really did was allow people
with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to keep a few more of the dollars that
typically must go to offset the cost of their care. Three million dollars is
0.34% of the DDD budget. Three million dollars is 0.097% of the Department of
Human Services FY15 GRF budget. Three million dollars is 0.0095% of the State
of Illinois’ FY15 GRF budget. Really.
I am disheartened that this is how the Administration chooses to manage
its budget – on the backs of people with disabilities.There I’ve said it.
How will I deal with it? In the short term by challenging the Division
of DD every time they say they want to integrate people into their communities.
And by asking those individuals who will see their buying power decreased to
share with Governor Rauner what they no longer can do. In the long term, IARF
will be back in the General Assembly to put the increase into statute that
protects the ability of people to keep more of their SSI money and use it to,
in fact, integrate into their communities after work an on the weekends.
I hope you will join in the effort to let the Administration know that
this is not good policy. And right now, given the budget impasse and the strain
of that we could use come good policy decisions.