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State's Late Payments, Budget Cuts Squeeze the Vulnerable in IL

October 26, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - As the Illinois Legislature focuses on casinos and pension reform in this veto session, human-service providers are asking lawmakers to consider how their decisions are affecting those most vulnerable people who have been left behind by late payments and budget cuts.

Illinois still has more than $400 million in late payments to be made for human services, according to the Associated Press. The state also ranks first in the nation in late payments to nonprofits, which already are dealing with painful budget cuts.

Timothy Sheehan, executive director of Behavioral Health Services at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, says $28 million has been cut from the state substance-abuse budget, and his agency alone lost nearly $1 million. He says people are being turned away.

"Whether you're talking about veterans returning from Iraq, the ever-increasing number of people who don't have insurance, people who are unemployed, all this has created an incredible demand for our services. But at the same time, we are the group who has been cut more than anyone else."

Sheehan says his group is cutting staff and cutting back on services, even as the need increases. The Illinois poverty rate is the highest it's been in nearly 20 years.

Sheehan says Illinoisans with mental illness and substance-abuse problems are running out of options.

"They usually go to emergency rooms. They go to police stations. They go to jails. They go to an ever-decreasing number of shelters."

Using emergency rooms and jails for people with mental illness and addictions is simply not practical, Sheehan says.

"They are going to go somewhere. But they're just going to receive very expensive care in other places, as opposed to less expensive care with us."

Gov. Pat Quinn says the state is getting caught up on its unpaid bills. The Responsible Budget Coalition says closing tax loopholes to businesses and restructuring the state's debt are some of the ways the state could fix the budget and prevent further cuts to programs and services.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL