Town Hall Forum on February 21 Re: The Crisis in Illinois’ Health & Human Services System

Residents to electeds: Address crisis in state health and human services

CHICAGO—(ENEWSPF)—February 20, 2014. Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis has sparked severe problems in the state’s health and human services system — from public aid and food stamps to medical, mental health and disability services. Residents are pushing back by bringing personal testimony about the crisis directly to state legislators. Their goal: to ratchet up awareness about the need to reinvest in vital safety net programs that support both individuals and the economic viability of their communities.

A broad coalition of community groups, civic projects and public service unions will host a Town Hall Forum on Friday to take testimony from residents with first-hand experience of the mounting pitfalls in accessing vital services through the state’s cash-strapped safety net programs. The event starts at 6 PM at St. Ita’s Church hall, at 1220 W. Catalpa in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, with testimony to be presented to State Rep. Greg Harris, who chairs the House’s Human Services Committee, State Sen. Heather Steans, and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (invited).

Organizers say the state has taken some positive steps to address the need for DHS services — including enabling the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. But they argue that privatization, office closures, “assembly-line” bureaucracies and overzealous Medicaid purges have decimated services at a time of increasingly dire need driven by record economic inequality and rising poverty rates.

That dynamic, say residents, locks out growing numbers of the state’s neediest residents from programs at a time when their families and communities can least afford barriers to service — while state service workers struggle with impossible caseloads and community-based care-givers have wages and benefits that leave them squarely in the economic ranks of their impoverished clients.

Witnesses will testify to state legislators on a range of human needs issues, including:

Difficulties in negotiating an increasingly bureaucratic and understaffed ‘assembly-line’ process at Illinois DHS offices, exacerbated by elimination of assigned, accountable caseworkers for the Department of Human Services.

The wrongful termination of thousands of eligible residents from Medicaid coverage, driven by the actions of the Maximus Corp, a private contractor being phased out by the Quinn administration,

The growing incidence of poverty wages and living conditions for front-line, direct-care workers — who continue to provide their equally impoverished clients with vital, full-time services.

Chaos and inadequate facilities at the DHS office at 5050 N. Broadway in Chicago, such as lack of accessibility for an office that serves the disabled

A chronic — and growing — lack of adequate state revenue for human needs across the range of state services.

Specific proposals include restoring assigned, accountable caseworkers, funding social service agencies adequately, restoring Medicaid drug and dental benefits, creating a graduated income tax and a sales tax on speculative financial transactions. Organizations sponsoring Friday’s Town Hall event include Northside Action for Justice, the Alliance for Community Services, SEIU Local 73, AFSCME Local 2858, and IMPRUVE.