Human service agencies make case for funding increases
Paula Basta, director of the Illinois Department on Aging, testifies during a remote hearing of a House human services appropriations committee. (Credit: Blueroomstream.com)
Departments serving seniors, children in state care say pandemic created new needs
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – State agencies that serve Illinois seniors and children in state care pleaded their cases Friday for increased funding in next fiscal year’s budget.
Officials from the Illinois Department on Aging and the Department of Children and Family Services testified before a House appropriations committee, arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has generated additional demand for their services, as well as new challenges in how those services are delivered.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the landscape of service delivery and re-emphasized the importance of addressing older (people’s) basic needs as well as for older adults to stay connected through alternative means as never before,” Department on Aging Director Paula Basta said.
The Department on Aging oversees a network of local Area Agencies on Aging, or “triple A’s,” which coordinate a variety of services for seniors to help them remain in their homes. Among those are congregate meal centers, home delivery of meals, in-home services and emergency home response.
The agency is seeking a $59 million increase, or 4.3 percent, over the current year’s budget. That includes $11.3 million for keeping up with the new, higher demand for home meal delivery.
Basta noted that when the pandemic first broke out, more than 400 congregate meal centers around the state were forced to close, and the agency had to quickly shift its focus to home delivery.
“So to give you a snapshot of what that meant, from March 30 of 2020 through December of 2020, the 13 triple A's provided over 10.4 million home delivered meals, which comes out to approximately 48,000 home delivered meals that were being delivered every single day throughout the state,” Basta said. “Also to give you an idea of how it has changed, in 2019 we only provided 58,000 shelf-stable meals to our seniors. But now in 2020 we have provided over 1.2 million shelf-stable meals to our seniors throughout the year.”
The proposed budget also includes an additional $5 million for emergency services, $1 million for assistive technology, and additional money to pay for an increase in rates for people who provide in-home services and transportation.
Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed budget also calls for a 7.9 percent increase in funding for the Department of Children and Families, the state’s primary child welfare agency, which would bring that agency’s total budget to just over $1.5 billion.
That includes a $42.7 million increase for foster care services to account for an expected increase in caseloads.
Royce Kirkpatrick, chief financial officer of DCFS, said the agency is also asking for an additional $30.5 million for funding of institutional group homes to improve clinical support for children with the most acute needs.
DCFS also is asking for an additional $12.7 million for technology upgrades to its comprehensive child welfare information system. That system is intended to meet new federal standards and will eventually replace outdated systems, including one that’s over 40 years old and operates on a mainframe computer.
The agency is also proposing a $7.4 million decrease in funding for adoption and guardianship services. Kirkpatrick insisted that does not reflect a proposed reduction in services, but rather the fact that there was a surplus in that line item in a prior year and the reduced amount for next year will still leave that program fully funded.
But Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, cautioned against making that move, saying she would rather see the agency put more emphasis on permanent placement of children in state care.
“And I think if we would work a little bit more robust in that, we'd be able to keep more children out of the system and certainly keep them in the least restrictive environment that would be best for them,” she said.
Overall, Pritzker has proposed total General Revenue Fund spending of $41.6 billion, which is $100 million less than the approved budget for this year.
Committees in both chambers are now holding informational hearings from agencies to hear their specific requests. Later in the session, lawmakers will make their own adjustments to those requests and put together a final budget that will be voted on in late May.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.