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Chicago Daily Law Bulletin: “Judge wants better care for disabled”

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin logoBy Patricia Manson
Law Bulletin staff writer

August 14, 2017

While acknowledging Illinois is in a “dire financial situation,” a federal judge ordered the state to find a way to provide adequate services for developmentally disabled residents.

In a written order Friday, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman found the state is not complying with a consent decree entered in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of about 16,000 special-needs citizens.

Under the 2011 decree, the state is required to “provide resources of sufficient quality, scope and variety” for the care of individuals living in intermediate-care homes or community settings, Coleman wrote.

But the costs of operating such facilities have risen substantially in the past six years, she wrote, while wages for caretakers have stagnated.

As a result, individuals protected by the decree “have experienced a reduction of services and have suffered substantially,” Coleman wrote.

The state’s fiscal year 2018 budget, she wrote, allocates an additional $53.4 million for such services.

That would increase caregivers’ wages by 75 cents an hour, she wrote.

However, Coleman continued, an expert witness, University of Illinois economist Elizabeth T. Powers, said much more money would be needed to stem high turnover among caretakers.

In a report, Powers said a 25 percent wage increase for caretakers would reduce turnover by a third, Coleman wrote.

She conceded state officials argue such an increase “is not financially feasible considering the state is facing $14 billion in bills that are in arrears after the two-year budget impasse.”

Citing O.B. v. Norwood, 838 F.3d 837 (7th Cir. 2016), Coleman also conceded she does not have the authority to order a wage increase for caretakers.

But Illinois made a commitment in the consent decree to provide adequate services to developmentally disabled people, Coleman wrote.

She noted the court-appointed monitor in the case referred to a state working group established in 2014 to address funding issues.

“The [c]ourt believes that reaching a mutually agreeable long-term plan accounting for both the resources of the [s]tate and the needs of those with developmental disabilities would benefit from a revival of a [s]tate working group to devise creative solutions to the issue of compliance with the [c]onsent [d]ecree,” Coleman wrote.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Barry C. Taylor, vice president for civil rights and systemic litigation at the nonprofit Equip for Equality.

“We are pleased that Judge Coleman found that the [s]tate’s insufficient funding of services for people with developmental disabilities to be integrated into the community is a violation of the consent decree,” Taylor said in a statement.

“The [s]tate must now develop a plan that will make the promise of fully integrated lives under the consent decree a reality for our clients.”

Another attorney for the plaintiffs, legal director Benjamin S. Wolf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, contended the state’s failure to provide adequate funds runs afoul of the consent decree.

“The [s]tate of Illinois has ignored the impact that its actions have had on the ability of our clients to integrate into the community,” he said in a statement.

Attorneys for the state include Illinois Chief Deputy Attorney General Brent D. Stratton.

Spokeswoman Meghan Powers of the Illinois Department of Human Services said the state “is committed to providing quality services to individuals with developmental disabilities” no matter where they live.

“The [s]tate will continue to meet all its legal obligations and will review the court’s rulings to determine appropriate next steps,” Powers said in a statement.

The plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the decree in April.

In a filing in July, they said legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly last year and vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner would have required caretakers to be paid $15 an hour.

That would have amounted to an average increase of $4 to $5 an hour, the plaintiffs said.

Such an increase, they said, “would have been in line with” the increase Powers said was needed to reduce turnover among caretakers.

The case is Stanley Ligas, et al. v. Felicia Norwood, et al., No. 05 C 4331.

Last updated: January 31, 2018

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