Federal judge says IL not living up to spending obligations for those with developmental disabilities

By Scott Holland | Aug 14, 2017

Citing a 2011 agreement, a federal judge has ordered the state of Illinois to figure out how to increase its spending on social services for state residents with developmental disabilities.

In an order issued Aug. 11 in Chicago, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said Illinois is not meeting its obligations for funding for people with developmental disabilities who live at home or those in intermediate care facilities who are trying to move to community integrated living arrangements or other community-based settings.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Illinois Department of Human Services said the state is complying with a June 15, 2011, consent decree it agreed to with a class of people with developmental disabilities. But the plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the order, saying the state was failing to do its part to provide community-integrated care to the highest possible degree.

In addition to the original plaintiffs, there also are intervenors who are living in and wish to remain in intermediate care facilities. They also the state is failing to uphold its end of the 2011 deal.

Coleman cited the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Olmestead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, which held ”states are required to provide community-based treatment for persons with mental disabilities when the state’s treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate, the affected persons do not oppose such treatment, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.”

In moving for enforcement, the plaintiffs and intervenors introduced a report by economist Elizabeth T. Powers as well as declarations from providers of various types of housing for people with developmental disabilities. Coleman’s order noted that roughly 11,000 Illinoisans live in community integrated living arrangements and another 5,000 live in intermediate care facilities. She then noted the cost of operating such facilities “has increased substantially since the entry of the consent decree and wages for direct support professionals” have stagnated, resulting in a “staffing crisis that is inhibiting care and negatively impacting the individuals protected by the consent decree.”

The state agencies said services have not been reduced and noted the recently approved fiscal 2018 budget allocates an additional $53.4 million to the services in question. Although Powers’ report said support professionals would need a 25 percent wage increase to cut turnover by a third, the state cited $14 billion in unpaid bills as a reason it could not enact such a raise.

Coleman said she does not have the authority to order higher pay, and the plaintiffs and intervenors instead seek relief in the form of a plan from the state agencies to bring it into compliance with the consent decree.

At a hearing on the motion to compel, Coleman said she heard from the court monitor, who also reported the state is not substantially complying with the consent decree. Further, the monitor told the judge that the lengthy budget impasse “resulted in a tangible reduction of services to plaintiffs and intervenors due to the rising costs and frozen funding. Moreover, the state has not presented any plan for compliance beyond” an hourly wage increase of 75 cents for support staff in fiscal 2018, part of the $53.4 million allocation.

The monitor also cited a working group established in 2014 to address the problem, and Coleman said reviving the group would help arrive at a “mutually agreeable long-term plan.”

Plaintiffs were represented in the action by attorneys with advocacy groups, including Equip for Equality, of Chicago; attorney Ed Mullen, of Chicago; and attorneys with the firm of Dentons US LLP, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Dentons - Chicago Equip for Equality Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Illinois Department of Human Services State of Illinois U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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