JOLIET – Elected officials and nonprofit leaders in Will and Grundy counties had mixed reactions to the recent passage of legislation that provides partial emergency cash in lieu of a balanced state budget.
“We needed to fund social services that haven’t been paid since July,” said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield. “But I can’t say this is a perfect bill. … It’s another patchwork.”
The passage of Senate Bill 2038 was nearly unanimous in both the Illinois House and Senate – a rare occurrence in Springfield these days – but Batinick and others, including Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration, have serious misgivings.
Under the bill, more than $714 million would be released to mental health programs, drug addiction treatment and home-delivered meals for seniors. The bill also appears to fund – in part – Adult Redeploy Illinois and Grundy County’s mental health court, two prison diversion programs.
But Batinick said SB 2038 does not fund critical Department of Corrections facilities, including Stateville in Crest Hill, and its language may unintentionally bar the use of funds for operational expenditures. Some programs, which are at their core operational, may not be able to be funded.
For example, the Senior Help Line is a call center, Batinick said, but language bars the Department of Aging from paying for charges and equipment to support the call center. Rauner has yet to sign the bill, and spokeswoman Catherine Kelly declined to say what he plans.
Grundy County Board Chairman David Welter said that while he isn’t against the emergency cash influx, he’d “rather have a fully funded, balanced state budget.”
“I think at this point, seeing that there’s some movement, it’s better than no movement. Still, a lot needs to be done,” Welter said. “I’m hoping this is the start of [bipartisanship].”
Welter said the County Board has agreed to fund Grundy County’s Mental Health Court program while they wait on grant dollars from the state.
Ben Stortz, CEO for Cornerstone Services, said the bill is not detailed enough to know how dollars will be divvied out to local agencies. But it appears the nonprofit – which is owed about $1 million from the state – would be partially funded for its mental health, residential, and outpatient and therapy services if the bill is signed into law.
“It’s nice to get money out the door, but it’s not the endgame,” Stortz said.
The Joliet-based organization serves Will and Grundy counties with residential supportive housing and relies on state grant dollars to provide group homes and other services to people with developmental disabilities.
Although Medicaid reimbursements are flowing in because of court orders, Cornerstone is also eyeing a $700,000 grant that the state promised but never issued a contract for. The agency’s situation is dire, Stortz said, adding that last week, the nonprofit had to use its line of credit to make payroll.
Even as the state withholds grant dollars, Cornerstone and other nonprofits are still required to submit quarterly financial reports, including number of clients served and other service statistics.
“It’s business as usual to them, but with no funding,” Stortz said.
The bill’s emergency cash will come from the Committee to Human Services Fund and other special funds, and is already on hand. Pete McLenighan, executive director at Stepping Stones in Joliet, said last week the stopgap bill is “better than nothing,” but funds at critically low levels.
The addiction treatment center earlier this year began limiting services to private pay insurance and Medicaid due to the budget impasse.
“We started the year with significantly reduced funding with our [fiscal 2016 contracts],” McLenighan said. “We’re still operating on a rather severe reduction in funding. This stopgap bill doesn’t really address the need that’s there.”
Even as the stopgap bill pushed through, a bipartisan working group of lawmakers last week gave legislative leaders and the governor’s staff recommendations for a balanced budget.
The group is suggesting raising the income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.85 percent and a sales tax expansion to raise $5.4 billion. That’s coupled with $2.4 billion in cuts, including $400 million from Medicaid and $440 million the state won’t pay back to funds it borrowed from.
The group also is suggesting the state borrow $5 billion to be paid back over five years to help with a backlog of bills, and addressing large salary bumps in the final years of state workers’ careers that contribute to bigger pension benefits. State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, declined to comment on the budget framework, saying she has not been presented with an official proposal. If there are revenue increases, she said, Republicans want much of those dollars to go toward the state’s growing backlog.
Otherwise, state spending will continue to rise at unsustainable levels.
“That’s been the temptation across the aisle,” Rezin said.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.