State lawmakers and the union representing Illinois home care workers say Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's "deadbeat approach to governing" has resulted in a "crisis in care" for the state's most vulnerable residents.
According to the union, Illinois has a more than $235 million backlog in payments to home health care service providers, and 2,400 seniors have allegedly "fallen through the cracks as a result."
"There are real human consequences of the governor being a deadbeat. These agencies are essentially being asked to bankroll the lack of a state budget," Terri Harkin, vice president of the Home Care Division at SEIU* Healthcare Illinois, said during a news conference at the Thompson Center.
"In adopting this approach," Harkin added, "we estimate that 2,400 seniors in Illinois have been affected. This could mean that they lost their services altogether, or just for a couple days. We don't know, because the Rauner administration has not accounted for any of the consequences of his disastrous budget. What we do know is that for seniors, and for people with disabilities, going even one day without home care services is both traumatizing and dangerous."
"No seniors have lost care due to Democrats failure to pass a balanced budget," the Rauner administration pointed out to Progress Illinois via email.
Rauner and Democratic leaders have yet to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. At the center of the budget battle is Rauner's pro-business, anti-union policy agenda, which the governor wants tied to the budgeting process.
The long-running impasse means higher education institutions and a number of social services have not been funded. Payments have also been delayed for many service providers, including Addus HomeCare, Inc. The agency is one of the largest providers of in-home and adult day care services through the state's Community Care Program for low-income seniors.
The state owes Addus HomeCare over $50 million in service payments, according to SEIU Healthcare Illinois.
Addus HomeCare is weighing whether to take legal action against the state now that the Illinois Department of Aging has rejected its request for a caseload cap. Specifically, Addus HomeCare said it asked for a cap on its "caseload of clients funded on GRF," or the General Revenue Funds.
In a statement, Addus HomeCare said it has not been paid for services provided to those clients during the current fiscal year.
"The company is evaluating its options with regard to this denial, including potential legal action," said Addus HomeCare's Chief Development Officer Darby Anderson.
For its part, the Rauner administration says Addus HomeCare requested a service cap on non-Medicaid clients, and the request "was denied because the department does not allow providers to cap services based on Medicaid eligibility."
State Reps. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) and Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) joined union officials as well as Democratic legislative candidates Omar Aquino and Juliana Stratton at today's press conference. The representatives and candidates defeated opponents backed by Rauner-allied groups in their respective Democratic primary races earlier this month.
Aquino beat out Angelica Alfaro for the open 2nd Senate district seat, while Stratton won in a landslide against incumbent Ken Dunkin in the 5th House district.
"A message was sent on March 15," Welch said. "Governor Rauner's agenda has failed miserably, and the voters rejected that failed agenda. I call on the governor to listen to that message. Listen to that message, and we need to pass a budget now."
The spring legislative session kicks off Monday in Springfield.
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly called on legislators to get behind the governor's proposed "structural reforms."
"No one is more frustrated than Governor Rauner by [the] failure of the majority party - which includes Rep. Welch and Rep. Harper - to pass a balanced budget," Kelly told Progress Illinois. "By working together, we can achieve bipartisan compromise like we did when restoring child care funding and protecting senior care. We urge lawmakers to help enact structural reforms and a balanced budget to ensure care continues to our most vulnerable while getting Illinois on sound financial footing."
Those at today's press conference also slammed Rauner for his 2017 budget proposal, which seeks to cut about $198 million from the Community Care Program. The cuts, according to the union's analysis, would come through Rauner's proposal to split the Community Care Program into two subsets, with one for those covered by Medicaid and another for non-Medicaid clients.
The governor's proposal to create a new "Community Reinvestment Program" for non-Medicaid participants could negatively impact services for nearly 44,000 seniors, the union estimates.
"Today we are calling on the governor to account for the seniors and people with disabilities he is putting in harm's way by his deadbeat approach to governing," Harper said. "Today we are calling on the governor to withdraw his $200 million in cuts to the Community Care Program. We are calling on him to stop using social service agencies as lending institutions for his political pleasures, and we are calling on him to get his priorities straight."
Aquino, a former Community Care Program case manger, said it would be "ridiculous" and "shortsighted" to cut or reduce home care services for 44,000 seniors.
"This is a program that actually, over time, saves our state money, because some of those seniors could potentially go into a nursing home facility, and the cost of that care is astronomical," he said.
For its part, Rauner's office said the Community Reinvestment Program "will better personalize a senior's individual care."
"All seniors enrolled in the CRP will receive the services they need based on their level of need, because every person's needs are different," according to Rauner's office. "The CRP is a very individualized approach that will keep seniors out of nursing homes and in their own homes and communities."
But union officials and their legislative allies do not buy the administration's argument.
"Instead of heeding to the voice of the people, Governor Rauner continues to justify his destabilizing cuts to the Community Care Program, which will put 44,000 seniors at risk," Harper said.
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.