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Illinois lawmakers approve $700 million to pay social services in part

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A bill to send $700 million to cash-starved social services providers breezed through the Illinois Legislature on Thursday, as the state once again turned to stopgap funding measures in lieu of a budget.

The measure passed the House 111-0 and the Senate 56-0. There was no immediate comment from Governor Bruce Rauner’s office on whether he will sign it into law. A memo from his budget office expressed concerns that language in the bill could actually prevent funding for some programs.

Democratic State Representative Greg Harris said the money would be taken from state funds outside of Illinois’ general revenue fund to cover 46 percent of what the state has failed to pay service providers due to the ongoing impasse over the fiscal 2016 budget.

“This is a $700 million piece of legislation that would help the neediest at the time they need help the most,” he said.

Despite the stalemate between the Republican governor and Democrats who control the legislature, about 90 percent of Illinois government is being funded through continuing appropriations, the enactment of a K-12 school bill, and court-ordered spending.

But some parts of the government were left out in the cold. Earlier this month, dozens of unpaid social service providers sued Illinois, seeking more than $100 million. Andrea Durbin, chairman of the Pay Now Illinois coalition that filed the lawsuit, said that if enacted, the bill would not end the litigation.

“It could provide a downpayment of the money we are owed, but it’s not a comprehensive solution for the Pay Now Illinois plaintiffs,” she said.

In April, the legislature passed and Rauner signed a $600 million stopgap funding bill for state universities, community colleges, and student tuition grants that covered only 34 percent of the $1.7 billion that had been earmarked for higher education spending in the fiscal year that began on July 1.

Illinois is the only U.S. state without a complete fiscal 2016 budget. Rauner earlier on Thursday acknowledged that some lawmakers are working on a budget framework. That framework involves higher taxes, spending cuts, and borrowing, according to local media reports.

“I’m cheering for bipartisan General Assembly members to come up with some solutions,” the governor told reporters.

Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis