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Special-needs class action presses on even with new budget in place

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin logo

By Andrew Maloney
Law Bulletin staff writer
July 17, 2017

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois may finally have a budget, but the court agreements that kept state money flowing during the last two years could still leave a financial hangover.

Lawyers for a class of about 16,000 special-needs citizens have reiterated their argument that the state is not providing enough services under one of those agreements, Stanley Ligas v. Felicia Norwood, No. 05 C 4331, and a judge should order more.

Among other things, they argue a $57 million allocation in the state’s new budget, aimed at wage-increases for workers who provide services to the class members, is “a first step” toward compliance with the decree. However, they also state the total is significantly less than an expert witness, University of Illinois economist Elizabeth Powers, said was necessary to keep employees on the job.

“It is estimated that this could provide a wage increase of approximately $0.75 per hour. By comparison, the legislation passed by the General Assembly and vetoed by the [g]overnor last year would have required wages of $15.00 per hour (an average increase of $4-$5 per hour),” the plaintiffs state in 18-page arguments filed Friday in federal court. “That would have been in line with the 30 [percent] increase that Dr. Powers stated in her [d]eclaration would be necessary to significantly reduce the turnover.”

The arguments cite U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow’s recent order for more funding in another consolidated consent-decree case, Beeks v. Bradley and Memisovski v. Maram. Lefkow ordered the state to fast-track $586 million per month for Medicaid payments and pay off $2 billion in overdue bills in the waning days of a political stalemate that left Illinois without a budget from July 2015 until earlier this month.

“The [c]ourt’s order requires funding to enforce the provisions of the consent decree, as [m]ovants have requested here,” the Ligas filing states.

The plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the decree back in April, arguing a lack of state funds for staff members who provide services in intermediate-care homes and community settings was causing “enormous hardships [for the patients], including social isolation, a dearth of meaningful activities, a lack of progress towards their goals, loss of independence and adaptive skills, and, in many instances, anxiety and depression.”

Under the decree, they wrote, the state had to provide adequate resources “to ensure the availability of services, supports and other resources of sufficient quality, scope and variety.”

But a freeze on reimbursement rates for groups that provide care, along with the rising cost of the job, meant those organizations have kept employee salaries low.

“It’s resulting in significant vacancies in staff and significant turnover, and that directly impacts our clients when you don’t have a stable workforce,” said Barry C. Taylor, vice president for civil rights at the nonprofit Equip for Equality and the plaintiffs’ lead counsel.

A spokeswoman with the Department of Human Services, which oversees implementation of the decree, could not be reached for comment today.

But last month, state lawyers argued being forced to increase service workers’ rates would essentially be a change in the terms of the consent decree and could cost between $200 million and $1.4 billion each year, depending on the scope of District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman’s ultimate decision.

“[I]f forced to significantly increase reimbursement rates, [d]efendants might be required to modify, reduce, or eliminate existing services, including services to other individuals with disabilities, and/or greatly slow the provision of services to newly-eligible individuals,” the state argued in June. “And, such changes to existing services and programs might put the [s]tate at risk of violating in some other respects this or other consent decrees or state or federal mandates.”

Taylor said today that Coleman has given the state 10 days to file supplemental briefs in the case, and that oral arguments have been scheduled for Aug. 4.

 

 


Green circle clip art with the word MORE written inside it.

 


Last updated: July 24, 2017

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