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Judge: State must pay bills, show a plan

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By Mark Fitton

Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman is keeping an eye on how well Illinois complies with her order to meet its obligations to citizens with developmental disabilities.

Coleman on Wednesday ordered the state to submit in writing by noon Friday what payments it has made, which payments it has not made and when any outstanding payments will be made. 

The judge also ordered the state to detail all payments it made that may have affected its ability to meet the deadlines she had previously set.

The hearing in Coleman’s Chicago courtroom Wednesday morning was sought by advocates for the developmentally disabled. They had filed an emergency motion arguing the state was not meeting its financial responsibilities despite a consent decree and two earlier orders issued by Coleman.

“People with developmental disabilities have been needlessly put at risk of serious harm because of the state’s failure to comply with the judge’s order,” said attorney Barry Taylor, who is leading the case for the advocates.

“While we are pleased that the state has finally begun to make the mandated payments, we will not rest until all services for all of our clients have been paid for by the state,” said Taylor, who is vice president for civil rights litigation for Equip for Equality, one of the advocates.

Wednesday afternoon, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger issued a statement saying she appreciated the court’s patience and her office would do all it can. "In the absence of a balanced budget for this fiscal year, my office will continue to work to meet the payment timelines set by the courts despite the state's limited resources,” said Munger, R-Lincolnshire.

"To be clear: taxpayers deserve better than government by court order,” Munger said.

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 for primary and secondary education.

By one estimate compiled by Senate Democrats, the state is spending at a pace to exceed anticipated revenue by about $5 billion.  

Coleman did not find state officials in contempt, but she may be losing patience.

The judge on June 30 issued an order compelling the state to meet its obligations under the Ligas Consent Decree.

With the state not saying when it would meet the terms of the court order, the plaintiffs sought and received a second order from Coleman, this one establishing dates by which the state must perform.

In her Aug. 18 order, Coleman gave the state until Aug. 21 to pay claims already submitted and until Sept. 4 to pay for or other services provided in August.

When Aug. 21 came and went without payment, the plaintiffs asked for an emergency hearing. The state did make $71 million in emergency payments on Tuesday.

Coleman on Wednesday also set a status hearing for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1.

The advocates argue the need is dire, as 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 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.”

The services provided are necessary for survival, they said.

“Many of these individuals cannot feed, clothe or toilet themselves or administer critical medication needed on a daily basis,” the advocates said in their pleadings.

About 10,000 people are beneficiaries of the Ligas decree.

In July 2005, Stanley Ligas and eight other people with developmental disabilities who resided in large facilities or likely to be placed in such facilities sued the state’s Department of Human Services. They had, without success, sought community-based services.

The resulting consent decree, approved by the court in June 2011, 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.

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