State Journal Register from Springfield, IL

Our Opinion: State plan to help disabled is backward

Last fall, Gov. Pat Quinn negotiated a deal with the state’s largest public employee union: In exchange for AFSCME members accepting $70 million in health insurance concessions and working with the state to find up to $50 million in additional savings, Quinn pledged no layoffs and no closures of state institutions through July 1, 2012.

We were critical of this deal at the time for strictly financial and political reasons. “Quinn is asking us to trust him as he puts the state’s most effective tool in bargaining for union concessions into storage for the next 22 months,” we wrote.

Today we’re lamenting that pledge once again, though this time on purely human terms.
Among those institutions that Quinn rendered closure-proof are eight state facilities — in Dwight, Anna, Centralia, Dixon, Jacksonville, Kankakee, Park Forest and Waukegan — that house people with developmental disabilities. For years, advocates for the developmentally disabled have tried, with very limited success, to persuade the state to move away from reliance on institutions and toward greater use of residential group homes and community programs for those with developmental disabilities.

At the same time, programs that serve the developmentally disabled and their families have suffered through years of steady cuts to their budgets and long delays in payment from the state. These are organizations like Sparc in Springfield, which operates small group homes, runs programs that provide employment for the developmentally disabled and provides important services to families of children with disabilities.

Quinn’s budget proposal for fiscal 2012 proposes to cut $76.3 million from these types of programs while increasing the budgets for state institutions by $30 million. It’s time for the state to realize that both financially and therapeutically, that formula is backward.

Housing an individual in an institution costs about $190,000 a year, or roughly four times the cost of living in a community setting, says Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois, a consortium of roughly 60 agencies that serve the developmentally disabled and their families. Paulauski points to studies that show Illinois ranks fourth in the nation in the number of people housed in institutions and is 47th in the amount it spends on community services that keep people out of institutions and allow them to lead more productive lives.

Paulauski is pushing a plan in which the state would close at least four of its institutions and move their funding into community programs. Residents from those institutions would be moved into group home settings, like those operated locally by Sparc.

“We have a number of individuals in our programs who came from state institutions,” says Carlissa Puckett, director of Sparc. “If they will just transfer the resources to where people really want to live, we can do it.”

Lawmakers need to listen to people like Paulauski and Puckett. Illinois must move out of the dark ages in treating its most vulnerable citizens. More importantly, they should listen to people like Charlotte Cronin of Peoria, whose adult son moved into a group home at age 18.

“When you take people with disabilities and you cluster them in this huge setting where all they know is other people with disabilities and people who treat them like they’re disabled,” Cronin said, “they become far more disabled than they are or need to be.”

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