Quick Hit Brandon Campbell Friday March 30th, 2012, 11:48am

Advocates Warn Cuts To Home Services Will Harm Illinoisans With Disabilities

Advocates for Illinois residents living with disabilities are continuing to voice their opposition to cuts in health services and facilities proposed in Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget while simultaneously decrying the millions in tax incentives given to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange last year.

On Wednesday afternoon, a group of about 30 activists belonging to groups like Chicago Adapt and Access Living, both of which are Chicago-based disability rights organizations, rallied outside of the CME’s headquarters on South Wacker Drive.

The group, some of whom were in motorized wheelchairs, warned that cuts to the Home Services Program laid out in the 2013 budget will prevent about 14,000 people from receiving those services, which include home delivered meals, personal assistants, and community-based adult day care among others.

Amber Smock, director of advocacy with Access Living, was at the rally. She told Progress Illinois in an email that these short-term cuts could end up costing Illinois residents more money in the long run.

“First, the effect of these cuts will be that people will be forced into costly nursing homes and institutions. The Illinois taxpayer will pay for this,” Smock said.

“Second, once these programs are cut, it is extremely difficult to rebuild them.  Disability advocates fought for these programs for two reasons: because people want to be able to live in their own homes and because these programs are more cost effective than institutional settings.”

Smock also said cuts to these services will rob many disabled Illinoisans of their independence and could drastically cut the income of home service workers.

Access Living is working with state legislators to promote alternatives to the cuts, which include two similar bills – one in the state Senate and one in the House – both of which would increase funding for the Home Services Program from the $113,864,900 suggested by Quinn to $399,380,000. Smock said her organization supports a progressive tax structure, which would place less of a burden on low-income residents, to increase state revenues and cover the additional costs.

Gary Arnold, a spokesperson for Access Living, said the activists chose to picket in front of the CME because of “inequities in the budget.” Arnold pointed to the $85 million tax breaks the state gave to the financial exchange last year, which cut the company’s tax bill in half, while Illinois is poised to slash disability services.

“What we really wanted was a representative from CME to come and address the group,” Arnold said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We wanted them to work with the community, to contact Quinn and help us support home services, but no one from CME was willing to speak with us.”

Progress Illinois received a response of “no comment” from CME after a call was placed to the company’s public relations department.

Quinn has defended his proposed cuts citing Illinois’ nearly $8 billion in unpaid bills as justification for the austerity measures. Meanwhile, back in January Moody’s Investors Service dropped Illinois’ debt rating to the lowest in the nation. Last year, Illinois raised income and corporate taxes by about 66 percent and 46 percent respectively.

Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago-based Civic Federation, a government watchdog group, recently told the Los Angeles Times that simply raising taxes while cutting services “is not enough to fix the problem.”

Wednesday’s rally comes just two weeks after thousands of union healthcare workers held similar protests across Illinois where American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees decried the pending closing of 24 human service offices and the potential loss of 3,000 jobs.

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