Aldermen Urge State Lawmakers to Reinstate Vetoed Healthcare Funding

Sept. 17, 2008 – Standing united in City Hall last Wednesday, the same day the Illinois House was called back for special session, several aldermen urged state lawmakers to reinstate $55.2 million in funding for substance abuse programs in Illinois.

The funding, originally included in the state budget, was vetoed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich earlier this year.

Though this year's budget cuts have impaired a number of state agencies and programs, the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse — a branch of the Department of Human Services — has been hit the hardest, losing approximately 2 percent of their overall budget. 

"We are here to heed to the governor to put those dollars back into the budget," said Ald. Ed Smith (28th), chairman of City Council's Committee on Health.

Some aldermen stressed that this issue was not merely a healthcare matter, but also a matter of criminal justice.

"People on drugs tend to commit a lot of crimes," said Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th). "We need to help these people."

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) called the situation "scary," saying that reduced funding for treatment could lead to more untreated addicts on the streets and, eventually, to more crime. Mitts said she understands that state officials are facing a budget shortfall, but says healthcare should be a higher priority.

"When it comes to healthcare, you have to have it," she said. "Health first."

Tom Green, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said he was unsure where cuts in programming would be made, but that the agency is working with grantees to help them find other sources of funding and advising them on alternative resources for clients such as 3rd party insurance providers. He declined to provide specifics on those efforts.

Grantees, which include Gateway Foundation, Aunt Martha's, and about 200 others, are funded on a fee-for-service basis, Green said, which means they retroactively bill the state for services provided.

Dan Lustig, vice president of clinical studies for the Haymarket Center, a Chicago-based rehabilitation center funded partly by the state, said the loss has had devastating effects on the center's work, and substance abuse treatment statewide.

"What these cuts represent is a total dismantling of our kind of medical system," said Lustig.  Substance abuse, he said, is a chronic healthcare condition that requires serious medical treatment. Without adequate funding, he said, the quality and extent of treatment would suffer.

Haymarket is expecting to lose more than $4 million in state funding over the next year, which represents approximately 40 percent of its budget for the past year. Lustig said that so far losses have meant a 50 percent reduction in detoxification treatment and the closing of at least two programs — case management and a men's recovery home.

Prior to the budget cuts, Haymarket was serving approximately 18,000 clients in the Chicago area, Lustig said.  He said he is unsure how many clients Haymarket will be servicing by the end of the year.

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