Brown: Munger says she’ll seek funding for disabled

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State Comptroller Leslie Munger said Wednesday that Illinois should resume paying for the care of developmentally disabled adults being housed in out-of-state group homes, and she promised to work to free the payments.

“Thank you for writing about that and bringing it to our attention,” Munger told me.

No, Comptroller Munger. Thank you for paying attention.

I’ve been reporting this week on the plight of five Illinois men and women who reside in small group homes operated in and around La Crosse, Wisconsin, by the nonprofit agency Chrishaven.

Each of these individuals was placed there by the state more than 20 years ago during a time Illinois provided few community-based housing options for those with developmental disabilities.

OPINION

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By all accounts, the arrangement has worked well, with the Illinois people thriving in the family-like environment with 24-hour supervision.

Since the state started operating without a budget on July 1, however, no payments have been made to Chrishaven for their care.

The agency, unable to operate without funding, informed their families and guardians last month that they would need to move by March 31.

Major upheavals of that sort can be very hard on individuals with these sorts of challenges and behavioral issues. Their families feared major setbacks.

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Munger, who has a nephew with autism and volunteers with a Lake County agency that helps developmentally disabled people, seems to have a better understanding of that problem than most and said she wants to help.

“I believe this is something that should be covered,” Munger said in a phone interview. “As soon as we receive a voucher from [Department of Human Services], we will get it paid.”

Munger said she believes the problem stems from confusion surrounding the patchwork of consent decrees and court orders under which the state continues to pay many of its bills during the budget impasse.

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger | AP file photo

Without a budget in place to authorize expenditures, each spending request must be scrutinized for its legal underpinning, she said.

“This is an area that kind of fell between the cracks,” Munger said. “No one made a conscious decision to say this is not included.”

Munger said she believes the legal authorization to pay Chrishaven already exists, which is not what other state officials have been telling the family members who are trying to sort out the situation.

They have maintained that court orders that have kept money flowing to other services for the developmentally disabled do not cover individuals placed in out of state facilities.

I’ve been told there are 44 individuals altogether who fall into this category, all of them sent outside IIlinois long ago before the state changed its policies.

“We’ll look at all of them,” Munger promised. “If it’s for one, it’s for all.”

The comptroller said she is “very optimistic” about restoring the funding, although she allowed she is “not 100 percent certain” just yet.

For that reason, I’m not declaring problem solved, but if she’s very optimistic, I’m at least a little optimistic.

I still haven’t received any definitive response from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration, which will ultimately control the decision.

But I’m sure having Munger on board will help convince the governor’s people.

Munger was appointed as comptroller by Rauner after the death of Judy Baar Topinka and is standing for re-election this year.

This is the second time I have found Munger to be responsive to the needs of the developmentally disabled community.

Previously, she pushed through payments for providers in the state’s Early Intervention Program after news reports by me and others highlighting how the state’s failure to pay its bills was threatening the care of young children born with developmental issues.

“I understand how difficult it for families,” she told me.

“This is why we need a budget,” Munger said of the Chrishaven situation.

Many individuals in other state-supported programs are similarly falling through the cracks, she said.

“When we hear about it, we look at it,” she said.

So do I.I asked Munger to send me a list. While I’m waiting, feel free to come to me directly.

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