PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday July 15th, 2015, 3:28pm

Illinois' Disability Community Feeling Impacts Of State Budget Stalemate (VIDEO)

Members of the disability community and their allies rallied at the Thompson Center Wednesday morning to speak out against the state budget impasse and call for a spending plan that fully funds crucial services.

Impacts of the state budget impasse are being felt by members of the disability community, who rallied with their allies at the Thompson Center Wednesday morning.

The advocates were there to speak out against the budget stalemate and call for a state spending plan that fully funds disability services and other crucial programs.

Among those at the rally was Michelle Garcia. She depends on the Home Services Program, which connects people with physical disabilities to personal attendants who can assist them at their homes.

Garcia said her case has been put on hold because there is no state budget in place. As a result, Garcia said she has lost her state-provided home assistant. 

In the meantime, Garcia said she's been able to receive in-home services through a city of Chicago program. However, Garcia said she receives only up to four hours a week of in-home services with that program.

"Four hours a week does not help me get up in the mornings and come to work every day," she said, adding that the home assistant "can only do so much in four hours a week."

Garcia said there is a good chance that she could lose access to the Home Services Program altogether if eligibility changes proposed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner are implemented. 

The governor wants to raise the program's minimum eligibility, or "Determination of Need," score from 29 to 37. According to Access Living, a disability rights advocacy group, 10,000 Illinoisans with disabilities could be deemed ineligible for the program if Rauner's proposed changes take effect. 

If she loses access to the Home Services Program, Garcia said going to work and doing things like grocery shopping would become extremely difficult. 

"I'll be at the mercy of friends or somebody who wants to help," she said.

In addition to the Home Services Program, Rauner also wants to change the Determination of Need score for the Community Care Program, which helps seniors stay in their homes.

According to figures provided by Access Living, some 39,000 Community Care Program users could lose service if Rauner's proposal is implemented.

Bob Spaulding with Healthcare Plus, an Illinois provider of home care services, called the proposed changes "short-sighted" and "heartless." He said cutting people from the programs will cost the state more money in the long run.

"Some of the people are going to end up in nursing homes. Some of them are going to end up on the street ... and a lot of them will end up dying," he said, adding that thousands of caregivers could also lose their jobs.

Paula Venetez said she's worried that her mother, who has Alzheimer's, could lose her home assistant if the new eligibility requirements for the Community Care Program take effect. Should that happen, Venetez said she and her sister would have to work part-time, rather than full-time, in order to take care of their mother.

"My mom, she does not belong in a nursing home," Venetez said.

Here's more from Venetez plus other scenes from the rally:

Also speaking at the event were users of the state's Early Intervention Program, which provides services for families with children aged 3 and younger with diagnosed disabilities or developmental delays.

Due to the lack of a state budget, three Early Intervention Child and Family Connection Offices, which handle things like program intake and service coordination, have had to temporarily close, according to leaders with the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children. Among other impacts, Early Intervention training for new therapists has also been halted during the budget standoff.

"These disability services for babies and adults alike cannot wait," said Ashlee Wells Jackson, whose family relies on the Early Intervention Program. "Any temporary lapses in funding are going to affect people's lives very drastically, and it needs to be taken care of."

"For us personally," she added, "our therapists don't know if they can continue providing services for our child" due to the state budget situation.

Jackson's two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is a survivor of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. The syndrome is a disease of the placenta that can cause uneven blood flow to identical twins. Jackson gave birth to identical twin girls, who were impacted by the disease, in 2012 via an emergency cesarean section. One of the twins died as a result of complications from twin-to-twin transfusion. Her daughter who survived has required therapies to help her learn how to walk, talk and engage in the world, Jackson said. 

Her daughter receives therapy four times a week.

"We carry that over into all of our daily activities," Jackson said. "A day without therapy for these young children can mean the difference in their abilities down the road."

One person who was passing by the Thompson Center during the rally said she empathized with the demonstrators. Jamila Jones explained that her family depended on state support for in-home health care while her mother was sick with cancer.

"If my sister and I hadn't had help through that program, I don't know what we would have done," she said.

Jones called on state lawmakers and Rauner to come to a fair budget.

"Try to imagine yourself as one of these people. Everybody's not out scamming," she said. "That's not what it is. Think about those people who will really, really need it. Sometimes people do get rehabbed to where they won't need assistance. That cuts the budget. The more you give cuts the budget, I think."

Another onlooker, Greg Guy, said the uncertainty around how long the budget impasse will continue is frustrating. He said it's time for both sides to break the stalemate. 

"Each side has to give," Guy said. "You got to compromise and find some middle ground ... That's the only way you're going to have some type of movement. Otherwise, we're gonna continue to be in this standstill position. In the meantime, people (are) missing out on services that are sorely needed."

Democrats want to fill the state's $6 billion budget hole in part with new revenue. Rauner, however, is pressing lawmakers to adopt some of his pro-business reforms before he considers a tax hike.

Guy said Democrats should give Rauner some of the reforms he wants.

The state legislature "has been controlled so long by the Democrats," he said. "The Democrats are accountable too. So they have to give in to some of what he demands as well. It's only fair."

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2) is also voicing concerns about the state budget stalemate. She issued this comment Wednesday:

The continuing budget standoff in Springfield is jeopardizing the health and welfare of my constituents in the 2nd Congressional District. Roseland Community Hospital on Chicago's South Side may be forced to shut its doors at the end of the July, leaving that community without a facility to treat victims of violence. Good Shepard Center for Childcare in Hazel Crest has laid off all of its respite care workers who provide home care for wheelchair-bound children with cerebral palsy, severe epilepsy and other disabilities. These are just two examples of vulnerable citizens whose wellbeing is being compromised by the budget impasse. I strongly encourage both parties in Springfield to put people above politics and pass a budget to get our state back to the business of caring for citizens in need.

Earlier today, the Illinois Senate passed a one-month budget bill, which was OK'ed by the House last week. The legislation is now headed to Rauner, who has previously stated that he would not sign off on such a bill. 


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