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State budget cuts to human services hit disabled, vulnerable

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Following Republican criticism he didn’t swing the ax during his Feb. 1 State of the State address, Gov. Pat Quinn lowered the blade Wednesday, proposing state facility closures and consolidations that he said would trim $420 million from agency budgets.

He proposed closing 10 Department of Corrections facilities, including two prisons and two Department of Juvenile Justice centers, in addition to consolidating more than 40 state offices to save money on state leases.

One facility slated for closure by Oct. 31 is Jacksonville Developmental Center, a home for the developmentally disabled. It’s outside Springfield with 185 residents and 366 staff members. The state spends about $29 million annually to operate the center. Quinn is moving forward with plans to close it down and transition residents into smaller group homes.

One of Jacksonville’s residents is 36-year-old Benjamin Pannier who has lived there for 11 years. His father sat quietly in a Capitol corridor Wednesday morning, surrounded by lobbyists chatting on cell phones. In one hand, he held his cane. In the other, he held a framed photograph of his son.

“He’s an 8-year-old in a 36-year-old’s body,” he said of his son who has developmental delays. “If we could keep him at home, he’d still be at home. But we’re not trained. We’re getting older. And he needs a place he can call home.”

Pannier said he views his son as a casualty of mismanagement in the state budget. While some disabled adults can transition to community-based care, others need the structure and on-site medical attention of an institution.

“Where are they going to go? Some of them don’t have families. Some of them are in their mid-to-late 60s,” Pannier said.

During a stark budget speech, Quinn said closing state buildings is necessary financially and, in some cases, part of a long-term plan that will provide better care for the state’s developmentally disabled.

“Fifty-nine closures and consolidations are hard but necessary. The need for lower spending in our budget gives us no choice,” Quinn said.

He called on lawmakers to work with him on pension reform and a Medicaid overhaul to avoid “collapse” of the overburdened systems. Quinn wants to slice $2.7 billion out of Medicaid in the coming fiscal year.

He said he would support $20 million in increased spending for early childhood education and $50 million for the Monetary Award Program, which helps high-achieving low-income students pay for college. His budget of $33.9 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes a payment to the state’s pension systems of $5.2 billion owed this year.

At least one Republican commended Quinn on his stark proposal.

“I heard a commitment from the governor today to make meaningful, fair reforms to both the public pension system and Medicaid. If these reforms are accomplished, it will be a very productive session for the Illinois General Assembly,” state Treasurer Dan Rutherford said.

Lawmakers listened to Quinn’s budget address quietly with no bursts of applause. They grumbled audibly when he told them: “Don’t plan on going home for the summer until we get the job done.”

Senate President John Cullerton said he would work with Quinn on a pension reform proposal that preserved the “constitutional rights of current employees and retirees. Unlike Indiana and Wisconsin, we intend to work with unions to accomplish this goal.”

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