The Quinn administration is seeking $100 million in cuts in the Department of Human Services in the current budget year, reductions that come on top of reductions in the fiscal year 2010 budget and ones proposed for the state's fiscal year 2012 spending plan.
About an hour into a tense hearing about cuts to state government's human services program, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Michelle Saddler, shared an anecdote that illustrates the fraying social safety net Illinois is able to offer to its most vulnerable residents. A top administrator, she recalled, faced with declining resources for the programs she oversaw was asking herself how to make lemonade out of lemons. Or as Saddler then put it, how to keep "core services" available to at-risk populations.
Lemons may be an inadequate metaphor to describe the cuts now on the table for the providers who offer treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, disabled people who want to live independently, poor families who need help burying their loved ones, and others accessing programs through the state's Department of Human Services (DHS). Before the state's current fiscal year ends this summer, DHS must make $100 million in cuts, Saddler told the frustrated crowd packed into a conference room and overflow facility today in Chicago. Here are the specifics:
The $100 million figure comes just more than a week after the governor himself proposed a budget for state government's fiscal year 2012 that leans heavily on human service cuts, an unsurprising consequence, some budget reformers says, given the breadth of the state's fiscal crisis, the depth of the Great Recession, and the simply political fact that human services don't have the same kind of universal appeal as other programs funded by state tax dollars. (Looming over all these realities, meanwhile, is that state lawmakers have never passed a comprehensive tax reform package to deal with the state's regressive tax structure.)
The current budget year cuts and the ones proposed for next year are coupled with reductions for human services programming realized in the fiscal year 2010 budget. Saddler said that human service resources from all state funds, including the General Revenue Fund, were down by $576 million from FY10 at this point in time. "We had significant cuts," she said of the transition from the last to the present budget, "but frankly we began the year still needing to find $250 million in reductions." DHS's 2010 appropriation from the General Revenue Fund in FY2010 was just more than $3.9 billion; that number was enacted to be about $3.6 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the governor's budget office (PDF). Including the General Revenue Fund, state and federal funds, the total appropriations are about $6.3 and $6 billion, respectively. The idea now is to give providers time to prepare for the $100 million cuts before the fiscal year ends.
Part of the challenge, she said, was an annual rise in costs as well as increased demand that is perhaps unsurprising given how many families are struggling after the worst economic crisis in 70 years. More people need child care, she said, and implementing HB 1800, a bill designed to help low-income residents access benefits, added costs; Saddler says that bill will need to be repealed, along with HB 1801, which allows Medicaid recipients to have their cases transferred to a DHS office more convenient to them. Emergencies played a role too -- the state spent at least $25 million on food stamps distributed to victims of the floods last year.
"We at DHS have gone through this cut exercise on a monthly basis for most of this past fiscal year," Saddler said. "Levels of future funding have been tremendously uncertain and resources remain limited despite the new revenue."
If there was any good news coming out of the hearing today, it was that the human services budget needed only to find $100 million in savings for the current year -- a number down from the $208 million previously assumed; Saddler said aides to Gov. Pat Quinn gave her the new number only this morning in fact.
But the Quinn administration's budgeting maneuvers were blasted by some of the General Assembly members who attended today's hearing; there is deep frustration with the shifting reductions target, repeatedly leaning on human services for cuts and savings, and overall spending priorities.
State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago) was among the most vocal. Delgado accused the governor's office of failing to share information, describing talk of $100 million in reductions as "another movement to keep everybody pacified."
He called the governor a "ferocious bear" and posed stark questions about whether cuts in addiction services and other programs would result in a larger prison population; the Department of Corrections (DOC) is getting more money, he said today. Take a look:
Hearing chair State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) asked if 900 new corrections guards were going to be hired next year.
Malcolm Weems, from the governor's budget office, said the point of increases for some agencies, including DOC, are to reduce overtime costs. Weems also said the new cap on spending agreed to in the tax hike deal last month was pressuring General Revenue Fund spending as well. (Progress Illinois examined some of the issues with the spending cap recently in this article.)
Weems' presence at this morning's hearing instead of budget director David Vaught's signaled frustration within the Democratic caucus about Quinn, meanwhile. "This is the second time he's dissed the legislators," Sen. Hunter said of Vaught. "Do we need to subpoena him?" Weems said the budget director had other tasks to attend to and he was knowledgeable about the issues at hand.
Delgado, meanwhile, worried that Saddler, a former board president at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, doesn't have Quinn's ear. "Your governor needs to listen to you," he said.
During questioning of top DHS officials, Hunter was able to confirm that some of the programs facing cuts currently have waiting lists; she said she's worried about increases in petty crime if people needing drug and alcohol rehabilitation help are turned away.
People on the front lines of working with that population have similar concerns. If addiction services are cut, addicts will "probably remain in their addiction, and to fund that addiction they will beg, borrow, and steal," said therapist Rachel Kurz as she waited in line to get into the hearing this morning.
Stanely Eames said his addiction services were paid for by Medicaid dollars, so he wasn't immediately worried about being cut off from the far North Side facility where he gets help. Yet, at least. "If these other people get cut off it'll only be a matter of time before the Medicaid people get shut down," Eames said.
There's a broader sense that human services have born more than their fair share of the cuts to state government over the past few budget cycles, people said. Here's how Gary Arnold, a spokesman for Access Living, put it at a rally the disability rights group organized this morning:
During today's hearing, you could occasionally hear protesters outside chanting against the cuts from the 6th floor room where it was held.