Disability Rights Advocates Protest, and Gov. Quinn Retreats


Illinois Governor Pat Quinn heard the cries of the protestors who rallied outside the James Thompson Center urging him to “Stop the Train Wreck” in planned cuts to human services.

Last year, Quinn announced that he planned to impose more than $200 million in reductions to the state’s Department of Human Services, including cuts to mental health services, developmental disability services and centers for independent living.

But on Feb. 24, hundreds of protestors – both people with disabilities and their advocates – gathered to demand that Quinn rescind the cuts. The rally featured speakers from many of the service providers for people with all types of disabilities, including Thresholds, the Ark of Illinois, Access Living, C4, Chicago ADAPT and Next Steps.

The protestors declared that Quinn’s proposed cuts to the 2012 Illinois State budget “will devastate community services that support people with all types of disabilities living independently in their own communities.”

Many of the protestors said the cuts would ultimately cost the state more money by reducing the independence of people with disabilities. They said the cuts are contrary to commitments by the state to promote the independence of people with disabilities through greater support of existing community-based services and the development of more community-based services.

Speakers at the rally declared that family assistance programs supporting children and adults in their homes with their families are also being eliminated. Home- and community-based services are being cut, while large state operated development centers, costing more to run per person, are slated for an increase.

They said the cuts will impact service providers such as Thresholds, which provides support to people with mental illness, and the community reintegration program, administered by the Centers for Independent Living.

People such as James Mathes, a veteran with a disability, spoke about what it means to live independently with his mental health issues after service in the U.S. military. Mathes got help from the program to move out of a nursing home and into an apartment of his own.

“Living in that nursing home was an on and off situation,” Mathes said. “I was in there for seven years. I don’t think anyone as capable as I am should be in a nursing home.”

An elderly lady who got help with independent living through Access Living talked about being in a nursing home for two and a half years. She said living there was like being in “jail” and thanked those who helped her get out and on her own.

Other speakers went on to say that there are a lot of veterans waiting to move out of nursing homes and get their lives back. But now the services to help them do so are being threatened.

Teri Hoffman, who works at Access Living helping people with disabilities get jobs, read a poem about the cuts to services for those with mental and physical disabilities.

“Illinois has a human services train, and it runs along the independence line,” Hoffman said.

“On board, people are using state sponsored human services to remain independent productive citizens of Illinois. The passengers on the train are parents and children with disabilities, working folks and students, young people and old people….

“The human services train that runs along the independence line is being steered completely off track and it is about to derail and crash. All the passengers on the train will be casualties of this wreck….

“Gov. Quinn is the conductor of this train. And he needs to get down here out of the conductor’s seat and fix this problem. He needs to fix this human services train because it is about to crash.”

The protestors claimed that existing cuts in the proposed FY 2012 budget eliminate or reduce programs that are traditionally more cost effective than institutional programs. They added that the cuts would force many people out of work and into institutions, costing the state much more money than it will save.

“These cuts are really going into the heart of programs that support people with disabilities living on their own,” said Gary Arnold, public relations coordinator for Access Living, in an interview with RJ after the protest.

“The law says people with disabilities have rights to get services in the community instead of institutions. It’s been proven that it costs less money and makes more economic sense to do that. And also, it strengthens our communities, makes them more diverse. When people with disabilities are living on their own and that way they are able to work and participate and contribute, it is also strengthening the community.”

Arnold said that his group, along with other people with disabilities, understands that everyone has to make sacrifices. But he said that these cuts to human services will “cost more money in the long run.”

“So if these cuts are really designed to save money, they don’t make fiscal sense,” Arnold said. “And so we want to establish a dialogue with the governor and with the state budget people to find a better way to balance the budget.”

The protestors pledged to continue their fight against the cuts until the state’s budget is passed. After the rally on Feb. 24, some of the protestors attended the human services meeting at the Bilandic Building, 160 N LaSalle Street, to voice their concerns there.

Quinn Retreats

The same day after the rally, Quinn announced that he would reduce the proposed cuts by half.

Kelly Kraft, from Quinn’s Office of Budget and Management, issued a statement which indicated the protests were a factor in Quinn’s decision to reduce the cuts.

“There was a DHS hearing that day in Chicago. During that meeting we announced that we were able to work with DHS to find further efficiencies and reduce that number to $100 million….

“The reduction is due to the increased demand for services, but yes the governor always listens to the public and wants to make sure he’s meeting the needs of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, to the best of the state’s financial ability.”

In a phone interview, Kraft said that in about two weeks, the Department of Human Services is going to be notifying providers of the reductions.

Kraft said about a year ago, when the governor first proposed his budget, the General Assembly gave him a lump sum of funding which wasn’t enough to go around.

“There were several hundred reductions made and a few weeks ago, we were able to work with (the Department of Human Services) to reduce that proposed reduction, and so now they still have to reduce another $100 million. Within the next few weeks, providers will be notified of those reductions. But we don’t have any specifics to exactly where those reductions will take place,” Kraft said.

Kraft also sent RJ a statement, “Spending reductions have affected all agencies across state government—and agencies will see continued reductions in the FY2012 budget to meet spending cap obligations.”

The e-mailed statement added that, “The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is operating under a budget deficit in the current fiscal year for a variety of reasons, including increased demand for services during the economic recession.

“IDHS is now faced with the difficult but necessary decision of reducing services in order to pay bills for the remainder of the fiscal year while preserving core services. We are aware of the hardships these tough choices will create and value the commitment of our providers who serve the most vulnerable citizens of Illinois.”

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