Advocates for disabled seek ‘contempt’ finding against state

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — It’s back to court for the Illinois Comptroller’s Office and the Department of Human Services.

Attorneys representing people with developmental disabilities on Tuesday filed an emergency motion. They are asking  U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman to bring into her courtroom the state’s comptroller, Healthcare and Family Services director and Department of Human Services director to explain why the state has not made payments ordered by the court and why the state officials should not be held in civil contempt of court.

The motion was scheduled to be heard at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

“The consent decree and Judge Coleman’s two orders make clear that payment for people with developmental disabilities must be paid,” Barry Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a written statement.

The state, Taylor said, “will have to explain to the judge why payments have not been made.”

Rich Carter, spokesman for Comptroller Leslie Munger, R-Lincolnshire, said the comptroller’s office is ready to explain its actions to the court, but the short story is that the cash-strapped state is doing everything it can to meet its obligations. The state did make $71 million of applicable emergency payments on Tuesday, he said.

After hearing motions earlier this summer, Coleman on Aug. 18 entered an order saying the state was not meeting its obligations under the Ligas Consent Decree, which arose from a lawsuit against the state on behalf of people with developmental disabilities.

In that order, Coleman compelled the state to make payments at funding levels of no less than in fiscal year 2015.

For claims already submitted, the state had until Friday to pay. For other services provided in August, the state has until Sept. 4 to pay. By Sept. 18, the state must be in full compliance.

The plaintiffs’ argue the need is dire and more than 10,000 people are at risk.

In their emergency motion, they say many of the service providers are “completely dependent upon the funding of the state in order to remain in operation. If the state does not timely make the payments required by federal law and the orders entered in this case, numerous providers will immediately close their doors, and thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities will not receive services that are essential to their survival.”

Carter said the state, which is currently without a budget for most of its operations, is running against a multi-billion-dollar backlog as it attempts to meet all of its obligations, including consent decrees and court orders.

And, he said, the money is moving out at an unsustainable clip. By one projection, compiled by Illinois Senate Democrats, the state is spending at a pace that will exceed the current budget year’s estimated income by $5 billion.

The Ligas Consent Decree, Carter said, is a little different than others the state is attempting to comply with in that it has a timeline for payments, “but we are doing everything we can as soon as possible.”

“We are prioritizing all payments to the best of our ability, with precedence being given to those serving our elderly, children and most vulnerable,” Carter said.

The Ligas lawsuit, named for the principal plaintiff, Stanley Ligas, was filed against the director of the state’s Department of Human Services in 2005 by nine people with developmental disabilities who resided in large, private, state-funded facilities or who were likely to be placed in such facilities. The plaintiffs had, without success, sought community-based services.

The decree eventually issued helped bring Illinois in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires people with disabilities be allowed to live in the “most integrated setting” possible.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, have been unable to come to an agreement on a fiscal year 2016 budget. The state is now nearly 60 days into its fiscal year with the only significant portion of its budget approved being that for primary and secondary education.

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