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.


This is the official blog of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.


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