Health services cut programs as Illinois budget impasse continues

The countdown is on for Illinois lawmakers as the midnight deadline for the state budget approaches.

Lawmakers now need a simple majority to pass a budget before midnight Tuesday. A budget bill is before the Senate, but Gov. Bruce Rauner says he’ll veto it because it comes with a $7 billion deficit.

If lawmakers wait, passing a budget becomes much more difficult, because more votes are needed. After June 1, lawmakers would need a three-fifths majority to pass a budget in a special session.

Human, health and social services relying on the money that the state budget would provide are looking at making deeper cuts as they wait for long-term funding.

It’s far from business as usual at the Jackson County Health Department. Director Miriam Link-Mullson says the state owes the department more than $400,00 after nearly a year without that funding. Roughly $214,000 of that hasn’t been appropriated, and Link-Mullison says she doesn’t know if the department will ever see it.

While lawmakers haven’t passed a budget in the past year, she says she’s written 10 different budgets for the department as they plan out how to stay afloat during the budget stalemate.

"It’s stressful to not know what the future will bring, and that’s the year we’ve just had," said Miriam Link-Mullison.

Link-Mullison says the department’s doors will stay open, but some of the programs it has offered for years will soon be cut.

"One of the programs that we’re cutting we’ve done for over 30 years, and it’s a genetics clinic," Link-Mullison said. She says they’ll also stop performing body art parlor inspections, which will instead be handled by the state health department. She says a program for parolees the department has worked on will go back to the Department of Corrections. She says the health department can’t continue to pay for and provide those services without state funding.

The health department has reduced hours and made an 8 percent staff pay cut. But Link-Mullison says if this continues, she’s worried about the potential for an illness outbreak devastating Illinois communities. She says the budget stalemate has left area health departments weak and growing worse.

"We’re going to see a major dismantling of human services and public health infrastructure without a budget," Link-Mullison said.

She says service providers don’t only need the money they’re owed, but Illinois needs a solution as well —a budget with long-term funding to keep communities and agencies healthy.

Lawmakers have until midnight Tuesday to pass a budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Illinois has operated without a budget since July 1 of last year. 

State Rep. John Bradley said in a statement: "It’s unfortunate that we’ve once again reached May 31 without a new budget, but we simply will not support policies and budgets that jeopardize our schools, our health care and social services, and the financial health of our working families. We will work constructively in working groups in June to build on the progress we’ve made in hopes of reaching a budget agreement."

State Sen. Gary Forby said in a statement: “This impasse has gone on long enough and we need to act on this now. The governor needs to work with lawmakers and pass a budget to fund education, Medicaid and help the elderly and people with disabilities. It’s time Rauner stops holding the state hostage over his agenda to benefit corporations and the wealthy.”