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‘Stopgap’ social service bill likely to stop on Rauner’s desk

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters and answers questions outside the Illinois State Capitol, Monday, May 2, 2016 in Springfield. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

A stopgap appropriations bill to immediately fund social services agencies will likely sit idle on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

The measure, approved by both the Illinois House and Senate on Thursday would have authorized spending about $450 million from a human services fund, and another $250 million from special funds to be spent on items such as foreclosure prevention, and affordable housing.

But on Thursday, Rauner said lawmakers “shouldn’t lose this opportunity trying to do a short-term thing.”

And Rauner aides later indicated the bill is considered a budget bill that the governor can’t refashion through a line-item veto. They also indicated the governor would prefer a new bill with cleaner language — like a higher education appropriations bill that funneled much needed money to state universities last month.

A better bet for the money to flow to social service agencies is to include it in budget talks that are ongoing.

Rauner’s budget office sent out a memo before the vote on Thursday, warning that the bill would prohibit some agencies from funding certain programs. It cited the Department on Aging not being able to pay phone line charges and communication equipment to pay for a Senior Help Line; and an HIV program that still won’t have funding for medical supplies, lab testing or to pay insurance premiums for clients.

Rauner aides called language in the bill a “drafting error” that should force all parties to redouble their efforts toward reaching a bipartisan agreement.

“The Administration remains focused on enacting a truly balanced budget alongside meaningful reforms — and the Governor will continue negotiating in good faith toward a bipartisan agreement,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement.

The bill included enough money to provide about 46 percent of what social service providers and programs — such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and Haymarket Center— received from the state last year.

“This is a $700 million piece of legislation that would help the neediest at the time when they need help the most,” the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said on the floor. “This is money that is available to be dispersed immediately.”

The money would have covered social service programs and services that have been cut off from state money since July.

The Illinois House approved the measure on Thursday with 111 voting for it and three voting present, including Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who argued there are other agencies and departments that should have been included in the bill.

On the House floor, Durkin said he would have supported the measure if it had included funding for the Illinois Department of Corrections, among other agencies. Durkin said without funding for prisons, prisoners could run out of food as soon as this summer.

After the Senate passed it with 56 votes, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton urged Rauner to “do the right thing” and sign the legislation, while pressing for more much needed cash for social service agencies.

“This gets needed funding to programs that care for our elderly, disabled and others victimized by Governor Rauner’s budget vetoes. Senate Democrats have time and again tried to give the governor the ability to fund these vital services. Hopefully, he will sign this bipartisan plan,” Cullerton said in a statement. “Make no mistake, more needs to be done. This is, at best, a step in the right direction. It is by no means a victory lap for anyone.

Emily Miller, director of policy and advocacy with Voices for Illinois Children, dubbed the appropriations bill “emergency cash” — not a stopgap — while urging a full budget for social service agencies.

“Only a budget can actually provide some stability and let them have the lines of credit returned to them. This doesn’t really do that,” Miller said. “We’ve got to agree on new revenue and a total budget package.”