By Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – For senior care advocates in Illinois, a state funding increase is a reason for optimism after a prolonged period of government disinvestment marked by a crippling two-year state budget impasse which continues to leave its mark on social service providers.
But advocates for nursing homes and home-based senior care agree there is a long way to go to ensure long-term sustainability for Medicaid-funded senior care programs, especially as the baby boomer generation continues to age into long-term care systems.
“The last four years were particularly hard on our members, and many of them worked with their financial institutions on lines of credit or any sort of loans that could keep the business operational and providing care and services for seniors,” said Liz Vogt, who represents the advocacy group Illinois Association of Community Care Program Homecare Providers
“Unfortunately, there were several that did close during the budget impasse throughout the state because they exhausted resources and couldn’t continue on. So, the fact that we have a budget and providers are being paid in a timely manner and the fact that there was an increase approved this year are just hugely beneficial to the overall sustainability of this program,” she added.
The Community Care Program, which offers non-medical in-home care, is on one end of a continuum of senior care providers in the state. On the other end are skilled- and intermediate-care nursing homes, which house the state’s sickest and most vulnerable elderly populations. Other programs include medical in-home services and light or non-medical living facilities.
Nursing home advocates from the Healthcare Council of Illinois described the industry as “already in crisis” before new funding was received this year to make up a little more than one-third of an anticipated $649 million industry-wide single-year funding shortfall.
“This money means survival,” Pat Comstock, executive director of the nursing home advocacy group Health Care Council of Illinois, said in a June interview. “Our members are thrilled, but they’re also relieved because these dollars are going to provide some much needed relief from the struggles to survive that members are experiencing.”
The Community Care Program is an age-in-place service that assists seniors in maintaining their independence through non-medical care such as providing meals and other support services. Participants must be over the age of 60 and possess less than $17,500 in countable financial resources excluding their home.
Per the new operating budget, the CCP and all associated services will receive approximately $960 million in funding this fiscal year, up from $870 million the year before.
Skilled- and intermediate-care homes will see an increase of $240 million this fiscal year – $120 million from the state and $120 from the federal government. Of that money, $70 million will be directly appropriated to help nursing homes meet minimum staffing requirements, while $170 million will update the reimbursement formula for support costs such as food, utilities, maintenance and equipment.
But according to a study commissioned by HCCI and conducted by the business advisory firm Plante Moran, the $240 million makes up only slightly more than one-third of an anticipated $649 million single-year industrywide funding shortfall caused by inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates.
The number of nursing homes that have closed since March 2014 grew to 23 last month. The latest three were closed in Amboy in April, Champaign in May, and Bethalto on July 24.
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TEACHER PAY: Some teachers in Illinois will get a pay raise starting next year, thanks to a bill that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Thursday, Aug. 22.
House Bill 2078, which passed the General Assembly in the final days of the 2019 session, phases in an increase in minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 a year over the next four years.
“As Illinois’ children head back to school this week and next, this new law says to them and their parents loud and clear, we value teachers,” Pritzker said during a Statehouse news conference.
The bill is aimed at relieving what many have described as a severe statewide teacher shortage in Illinois. During the 2018-2019 school year, Pritzker said, roughly 1,500 teaching positions across the state were unfilled.
“We need to start taking this problem seriously and this legislation is a good step toward solving it,” state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, the chief Senate sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.
According to data from the Illinois State Board of Education, the average salary of a public school teacher in the state was $65,721 during the 2017-2018 academic year, the most recent year for which figures are available. But the salaries for individual teachers varies greatly, depending on their location, years of experience, their own level of education and the financial resources of the district in which they teach.
Officials estimate the new law will affect about 8,000 of the state’s 127,000 full-time public school teachers.
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MADIGAN OFFICE INVESTIGATION: An investigation into the “workplace culture” of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office found his former chief of staff contributed to a culture of bullying pervasive throughout the Capitol system.
The review, conducted by former federal prosecutor and former executive inspector general Maggie Hickey, was called for in response to allegations of harassment. She currently works for Schiff Hardin LLP.
Hickey found “by far the most consistent criticism” of more than 100 people interviewed was “bullying,” according to the report released Tuesday, Aug. 20. The issues, including “hazing” experienced by some workers, were described as “inevitable” due to long hours workers spend in the Statehouse and the “militant” nature of Madigan’s staff.
Madigan and a group of female Democratic lawmakers called for Hickey to conduct the probe of the Speaker’s office in June 2018.
“I welcomed this independent review to better understand the workplace culture within the Office of the Speaker and to help improve the environment in the Capitol,” Madigan said in a press release.
One of the allegations was against Timothy Mapes, who was the speaker’s chief of staff for more than 25 years and clerk of the House for more than six years before resigning in June 2018.
Sherri Garrett, an account technician, worked in the Statehouse since the 1980s. She made eight allegations against Mapes, which Hickey classified into three groups in her report: illustrations of Mapes’ leadership approach, examples of how he managed workplace harassment complaints and allegations he made inappropriate comments at work.
In interviews for the investigation, she told Hickey that Mapes had “an inordinate amount of power in the State,” according to the report, including influence over harassment complaints. Hickey’s report said most of the people she interviewed, regardless of their opinion of Mapes, said he “commonly threatened people’s jobs” or “reminded them that they were dispensable.”
Hickey concluded Mapes “had a habit of being discourteous to workers and representatives.”
“The number of independently verified instances of Mr. Mapes’s derogatory behavior was overwhelming,” Hickey said in her report. “Mr. Mapes had a reputation for denigrating workers and threatening their jobs.”
Hickey recommended Madigan reorganize the hierarchy of his office to prevent the amount of power and influence Mapes wielded to again rest with one person. In the report, she suggested the speaker take on a greater role in his office and delegate additional responsibilities to senior members of his staff.
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CAPITOL CULTURE: Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan believes the three other legislative groups should conduct independent reviews of their workplaces, his chief of staff said in an email Thursday, Aug. 23.
A report released by his office Tuesday, Aug. 20, concluded a culture of bullying and intimidation existed in the speaker’s office and throughout the Capitol system. The results of the investigation, called for by Madigan and a group of female lawmakers in June 2018, were made public because the speaker values transparency, Jessica Basham, his chief of staff, said.
Senate Democrats and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate should conduct similar investigations, she said.
“To make meaningful change, you need to examine the past and get input from everyone,” Basham wrote in an email. “… We should strive to be transparent while respecting the confidentiality of those who wish to remain anonymous. The speaker’s goal is for the office to be a place where everyone is comfortable to bring forth allegations, knowing they will be treated with compassion and the process will be fair for all parties.”
The document’s publication prompted a focus on workplace culture at the Capitol this week, and a discussion about the necessity of transparency in fixing a system Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said has been “pervasive for a long time.”
At signing ceremonies for two statutes — one affording protections to those who rent homes in Illinois and are not U.S. citizens, and the other increasing the minimum wage for teachers — the governor fielded questions about the environment for state employees under the dome.
He said the culture of sexual harassment, which “exists in Springfield on both sides of the aisle,” needs to be challenged.
“The only way to do that — you can’t just do one-time trainings, you can’t just announce that this is a problem — you have to be persistent and consistent about addressing it,” Pritzker said Wednesday, Aug. 21.
But he also stressed the importance of transparency in the system set up to investigate complaints of misconduct.
“Transparency is critically important,” the governor said Thursday. “Once we know that people need to be held accountable and there’s information that ultimately as a result should be shared, we want to make sure that it’s transparent.”
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INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORTS: Barrington Hills Republican Rep. David McSweeney this week said it is “outrageous” another type of report is not made public — a document compiled after an investigation of alleged wrongdoing by lawmakers or their staff.
Any complaints of discrimination, harassment, assault or instances of misconduct by someone working in or for the General Assembly goes to the legislative inspector general. Currently, that post is filled by Carol Pope, a former state’s attorney, circuit court judge and appellate court justice.
If the inspector general wants to investigate the complaint, she needs permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission. It is a panel of eight lawmakers — two from each of the caucuses. The exception is for allegations of sexual harassment, which she can investigate without permission.
Once an investigation is concluded and the inspector general submits her report to the commission, it is up to the panel of lawmakers whether that document is made public. The former inspector general, Julie Porter, wrote in an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune in April, “The only way to hold a legislator accountable in Illinois — and to promote discussion and change — is for the LIG to be able to publish her findings.”
Before she left her post, Porter asked the commission to publish two reports, one in which she wrote a lawmaker “engaged in wrongdoing” and one she did not elaborate on. The ethics commission declined.
“I am statutorily bound to preserve the details as confidential, so I cannot describe the matters or the nature of the violations that I found. What I can say is that the public should be reading about and debating my reports,” she wrote. “Some readers may agree with me, some may not — but either way, the process of understanding the LIG’s investigation and grappling with her conclusions would be much healthier than allowing them to be buried and forgotten.”
Hickey’s report, McSweeney said, supports his call “for full transparency about legislator misconduct.” A first step, he added, should be for the head of his caucus, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, to “immediately demand the release of the buried report.”
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IMMIGRANT PROTECTIONS: People who rent homes or apartments in Illinois who are not United States citizens have new legal protections under state law.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Wednesday, Aug. 21, that prohibits landlords from evicting or intimidating tenants based on their citizenship or immigration status.
“Where you were born has nothing to do with the ability to pay rent on time, which is what the relationship between a landlord and a tenant should really be about,” Pritzker said in Chicago as he signed Senate Bill 1290 into law.
The bill is nearly identical to one lawmakers passed in 2018, but which former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed. And in signing the bill, Illinois became only the second state, behind California, to enact such a law.
Under the new law, which takes effect immediately, landlords are specifically prohibited from disclosing or threatening to disclose information about a tenant’s immigration status for the purpose of harassing or intimidating that person or for retaliation against a tenant for exercising his or her legal rights.
It also prohibits landlords from seeking to evict a tenant because of immigration or citizenship status, and provides civil remedies for tenants if their landlord violates the new restrictions.
It also provides an exception for cases in which a landlord is required to disclose citizenship or immigration status information in order to comply with federal law or a court order.
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WEAPONS IN SCHOOLS: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Republican sponsors of a bill he vetoed Tuesday, Aug. 19, announced they will continue to work on legislation aimed at clarifying the state’s school code as it pertains to BB guns, air-powered guns and other similar weapons.
Pritzker used only his fifth veto on Senate Bill 2124, a measure state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said was written to “close a loophole” in a state law, which he said ties school districts’ hands in dealing with incidences in which students bring BB guns to school to cause panic and disruption.
The problem, Rose said in a phone call, is that weapons like BB guns, spring guns, air-powered pneumatic guns and paint ball guns are not specifically addressed in current law. That’s because they technically don’t fit the legal definition of actual guns, and the section of law pertaining to “look alike” guns applies only if the weapon is “used or attempted to be used to cause bodily harm.”
Rose said the bill was written in response to a specific incident in the Mt. Zion school district, in Macon County.
In that district, Rose said, the school board believed alternative school would be an appropriate disciplinary action for a student who was involved in an incident with a BB gun.
Mt. Zion Superintendent Dr. Travis Roundcount said in a phone call that if a weapon is not fired in such an incident, Illinois law allows for suspension up to only 10 days.
Rose’s measure would have provided that a student who brings one of the weapons to “school, any school-sponsored activity or event, or any activity or event that bears a reasonable relationship to school shall be expelled for a period of not less than one year.”
In Pritzker’s veto message, he said current law “already equips school boards, superintendents, and administrators with the tools necessary to discipline students who bring inappropriate, potentially harmful objects to school.” But he said he was willing to work with bill sponsors to “address any ongoing concerns surrounding student safety.”
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FIRST RESPONDERS: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed more than 50 bills last week and has about one week remaining to sign the final 167 of the 599 total bills sent to him by the General Assembly this year.
House Bill 2766 is aimed at “ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues among firefighters and law enforcement officers,” according to a news release from Indian Creek Democratic state Sen. Terry Link, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.
The measure creates an 18-member task force to study first responder suicides, ensures peer support counselors for first responders are properly trained and allows Illinois State Police officers to remain employed in some cases even if their Firearm Owner’s Identification Card is revoked.
Per the law, the Department of State Police “shall not make possession of a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card a condition of continued employment” if the State Police officer’s FOID card is revoked because the officer was a patient of a mental health facility but is not deemed a danger to themselves or others as determined by a qualified examiner.
The State Police still maintain the “ability to determine a State Police officer’s fitness for duty,” and current collective bargaining agreements cannot be altered, but any future agreement must abide by the new law.
The bill also ensures that sheriff’s offices, police departments and fire departments offer mental health services such as counselors or therapists to employees either through contract or direct employment.
The measure passed unanimously in the House but with seven votes against in the Senate, and it takes effect immediately.
The governor also signed Senate Bill 1183 to expand the scope of the Police Memorial Committee Fund to include scholarships or grants to spouses of police officers killed in the line of duty, adding them to children who are already eligible. The measure passed each house unanimously and takes effect immediately.
Pritzker’s signature on House Bill 124 means the Illinois State Police can now hire applicants who hold a two-year associate degree or 60 credit hours at an accredited college or university, instead of two years of law enforcement studies. The requirement change passed the House and Senate unanimously and takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.
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GREENHOUSE GASES: When Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 3481 last week, he repealed a law enacted in 1998 that prohibited Illinois from reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emission allowances beyond the goals set for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol – a set of rules adopted at an international conference in Kyoto, Japan, in the late 1990s. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement in 2001.
The new law does not enact new standards, but it gives the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Pollution Control Board authority to propose new rules to reduce greenhouse gases.
The bill takes effect immediately after passing 66-44 in the House and 35-17 in the Senate, with Republicans at the time expressing concern that enacting rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions might negatively impact state industries.
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BANKING INITIATIVE: Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Comptroller Susana Mendoza touted Senate Bill 1332 as a measure they hope will reduce the use of alternative banking services in Illinois.
The unanimously-passed measure creates the “Illinois Bank On Initiative” to be run by Mendoza’s office. The measure enables the comptroller to partner with banks, credit unions, consumer advocates and representatives of the community to “certify financial products appropriate for consumers new to banking,” according to a news release.
The comptroller’s website will maintain a list of “Certified Financial Products” and their minimum requirements. Mendoza’s office said the website will highlight “products that provide fair financial service options, such as no maintenance fees, low minimum deposits, low or no overdraft fees and alternative IDs.”
The measure also creates the “Illinois Bank On Initiative Commission,” which will serve the comptroller in an advisory capacity on an unpaid basis, aside from travel reimbursement. The initiative does not otherwise require an appropriation of state funds.
Pritzker signed the bill into law last week.
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TITLE X FUNDING: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined with Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights advocates Monday, Aug. 19, in denouncing the Trump administration’s new policy that blocks federal family planning money from going to any organization that provides or facilitates abortions.
“The Trump administration’s gag rule is fundamentally wrong,” Pritzker said in a telephone news conference Monday. “This policy has caused a mess of confusion and uncertainty, destabilizing women’s health care nationwide and doing extraordinary harm to the lives of patients, particularly women of color.”
The program in question is known as Title X. It distributes about $260 million a year to clinics around the country to provide family planning services to an estimated 4 million people, primarily lower-income individuals. Planned Parenthood organizations throughout the country receive about 40 percent of all Title X funding.
In Illinois, the state Department of Public Health typically receives about $4 million a year, which it distributes to various public health clinics in Illinois. Planned Parenthood of Illinois receives about another $3.5 million, while Aunt Martha’s receives about $500,000.
The money is used to pay for such services as contraception, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, among other things.
Monday marked the deadline for program recipients to certify with HHS that they were in compliance with the new rule. Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood’s national organization, said her organization could not in good conscience sign such a statement.
“We consider ourselves being forced out of the Title X program because we cannot comply with the gag rule,” she said. “When you have an unethical rule that is asking us to limit what our providers can tell our patients with respect to the full reproductive health care spectrum, … then it becomes really important for us to not agree to be in the program.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.