Ivy Daily and her son Daniel Lee. Supplied Photo.

Brown: Fight over developmentally disabled puts state’s priorities on trial

SHARE Brown: Fight over developmentally disabled puts state’s priorities on trial
SHARE Brown: Fight over developmentally disabled puts state’s priorities on trial

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Ivy Daily lives with a fear common to the parents of developmentally disabled adults: How would her son cope if he were forced to move back home? How would she?

That fear, normally in the back of Daily’s mind, has been front and center in recent weeks as the state’s financial problems have stymied funding for hundreds of small group homes across the state that take care of individuals such as her son, Daniel Lee.

On Wednesday, a federal judge instructed lawyers for Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger to report back to her within 48 hours to prove up their assertion the state had finally sent out $71 million in overdue payments this week to private agencies that provide services to the developmentally disabled.

As my colleague Natasha Korecki has been reporting, advocates had asked U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman to hold the state in contempt of court for failing to pay its bills to providers who said they were in danger of closing their doors.

I still can’t quite put my finger on how this was allowed to get so far out of hand. Yes, the state is running out of money, and we’re going to see more and more of these scenarios as we stumble along without a budget and a tax hike — for which both Republicans and Democrats bear responsibility.

For some strange reason, though, our new governor went to court to secure an order allowing him to continue funding the state payroll without a budget. But he and his hand-picked comptroller insisted providers of services to the developmentally disabled get their own court order if they wanted to be paid.

Then, even with a court order, they wouldn’t make the payments until lawyers for Equip for Equality and the American Civil Liberties Union hauled them back into court to shame them into it.


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If there’s one group I thought we all could agree deserves the public’s financial support, it’s this one.

These are society’s most vulnerable citizens, suffering from autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other severe problems that can make survival on their own impossible, but who can do quite well with just some basic help.

And yet we in Illinois have a terrible track record for giving them the help they need. I’ve never really understood why that is, other than the obvious fact that there isn’t much they can do to stick up for themselves.

Daily’s son is a good example.

Daniel Lee, 25, suffers from severe autism. He does not speak. He needs someone else to bathe him and brush his teeth. He can dress himself, with help, and feed himself, though it is messy.

“He pretty much operates at a third-grade level,” his mother said.

Lee is six feet tall, 202 pounds “and strong,” she adds with emphasis, which is why she knew she could no longer take care of him on her own when he began beating and kicking her.

But Daily said her son has thrived since 2009 when he was placed in a small group home in Frankfort operated by Individual Advocacy Group, a major provider of services for the developmentally disabled in Illinois.

Charlene Bennett, the agency’s president and executive director, said the state is more than two months and $2 million in arrears to her organization.

And until she heard Wednesday that the check was in the mail (actually a wire transfer), she was scared to death about how she could keep the doors open for 210 disabled clients at some 60 homes across the state.

“This is the most stressful situation that anybody could live through,” Bennett told me. “We’re responsible for people’s lives. We’re an organization that cares about our individuals. We don’t have deep pockets.”

To stay in operation, Bennett said she has had to rely on a line of credit from a bank, which isn’t always easy to get when you’re owed money by the state.

“I don’t want to speak ill of anyone,” said Ivy Daily, “but I think some priorities are not where they should be.”

That’s an understatement.

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