Attorneys for Illinois residents with developmental disabilities have pleaded with the federal court to force the State to raise rates to service providers, contending that the existence of the state’s group homes is “precarious” under current funding levels.
The argument came Friday in a brief (attached) in support of a motion the lawyers filed in April, asking U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman to enforce the Ligas Consent Decree. The court-appointed monitor has declared the State out of compliance with the decree for the past two years, and the attorneys said in May that the service system “is on the brink of disaster.”
The attorneys rejected the State’s contention that the court lacks authority to order a rate increase, citing a decision by Judge Joan Lefkow June 30 to enforce another consent decree by ordering the State to pay $586 million a month in Medicaid payments to physicians and $2 billion worth of back bills. They said Lefkow’s order “requires funding to enforce the provisions of the consent decree, as (we) have requested here.”
The brief was filed by Equip for Equality, an advocacy group, and the ACLU, representing the Ligas plaintiffs, and two lawyers representing residents of intermediate care facilities.
Illinois is the wealthiest of the Midwest states, the attorneys said, “yet only contributes a third of the average Midwest per-person rate for developmental disability services. The lower overall funding of these services in Illinois—at rates substantially less that the actual operation costs—places Illinois’ (group homes) in a precarious existence.”
The plaintiffs only seek “what was promised to them” by the State, the attorneys said. They said the State “ignores the fact that plaintiffs bargained for—and, more importantly, obtained—an express commitment that class members would not simply be moved out of institutions, but would receive the person-centered services necessary for true community integration. . . . The State cannot enter into a consent decree agreeing to provide certain services and then excuse itself from compliance by claiming that providing the very services it agreed to would be too expensive.”
The new state budget provides for a 75-cent-an-hour wage increase for disability workers, far below what the lawyers say is needed.
Disability consultant Ed McManus said the State is clearly shirking its duty to Illinois’ residents with developmental disabilities. McManus operates a Wilmette-based consulting firm representing 30 provider agencies around the state.
“Equip for Equality sued the State in 2005 for its failure to provide adequate services, and the State settled the litigation and avoided trial by agreeing to the consent decree,” he said. “Now it’s claiming all it had to do was provide services to more people, with no regard for quality. That’s preposterous! Providers are experiencing an unprecedented staff shortage due to low wages, and the quality of services has plummeted as a result. Hopefully, Judge Coleman will recognize this and not let the State off the hook.”