U.S. judge orders Illinois to boost disabled care

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday ruled that Illinois was not providing sufficient resources for the care of developmentally disabled residents and ordered the state to come up with a plan to restore services.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said Illinois, which just ended an unprecedented budget impasse, failed to provide “resources of sufficient quality, scope, and variety” to the residents, who as a result “suffered substantially” from a reduction in services in violation of a federal consent decree.

In the ruling, Johnson said she lacked the authority to order a funding increase, noted the state’s “dire financial condition,” and directed Illinois to devise a plan to address issues affecting the services and comply with the decree.

The state had argued that advocates for the disabled living outside of institutions were seeking as much as an additional $1 billion annually - an amount Illinois could not afford.

A two-year budget impasse that ballooned the state’s unpaid bill backlog to more than $15 billion ended in July when lawmakers enacted a fiscal 2018 budget over the governor’s vetoes.

That budget allocates $53.4 million for the first rate increase for developmentally disabled services since 2008. But the advocates said the funding boost was insufficient to retain workers and services.

“What (the state) comes up with will be the next step,” said Barry Taylor, vice president at Equip for Equality, one of the advocates, in a phone call.

The judge set a status hearing for Oct. 27.

Meghan Powers, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said in an email that the state was committed to providing quality services to the developmentally disabled.

“The state will continue to meet all its legal obligations and will review the court’s rulings to determine appropriate next steps,” she said.

Another U.S. judge ordered Illinois in June to substantially boost its monthly payments to Medicaid providers to ensure continued health care for poor and disabled residents covered under a separate federal consent decree. The state had owed those providers more than $3 billion.

Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Chang