Discussion and action around Medicaid, the state budget, and pension reform dominated the spring session. Legislation dealing with pension reform did not pass, and legislators will probably return to Springfield sometime this summer to take up that issue. That being said, here is a quick look at the other major topics:
Early in the legislative session, the General Assembly and the Governor tasked themselves with cutting $2.7 Billion dollars (roughly 18%) from the Medicaid Program in Illinois. These cuts were seen as part of the comprehensive solution to curbing Illinois’ growing deficit and ensuring that the program didn’t completely collapse. Throughout the process, PCG worked with our allies to push for new revenues as opposed to cuts. In the end, legislators made $1.6 billion dollars in cuts and came up with $1.1 billion in revenue. The revenue includes $800 million from a $1/pack increase in the cigarette tax and $300 million in rate changes for hospitals. The cuts of $1.6 billion are sure to harm low-income families. Specific concerns include:
- Reduction of Family Care eligibility from 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 133%
- Elimination of the Illinois Cares Rx Program which provides Medicare Part D wrap-around coverage for seniors and persons with disabilities
- A limit of four prescription drugs per month without prior approval
- Elimination of medical general assistance programs for adults
- Reduction of all adult dental services to emergencies only
In addition to the cuts, reductions, and new revenue, the Medicaid reform package included language codifying an expanded definition of Charity Care, relieving the obligation that hospitals provide free care to the uninsured in Illinois in order to merit their tax exemptions. The bill also created a new tax credit for the charity care provided by for-profit hospitals in Illinois.
The House and Senate once again passed a budget based on a revenue estimate ($33.7 billion) that was lower than the Governor’s estimate and budget proposal. Using that number, the House allocated specific amounts to each of its appropriation committees. Those committee members were responsible for determining which programs would be eliminated or reduced in order to meet the revenue estimate. When all was said and done, a number of programs that assist Illinois’ most vulnerable were reduced or eliminated. Education funding was cut by roughly $200 million, Early Childhood Block Grant funding was cut by $24.9 million (an 8% cut), and child care assistance for low-income, working families was reduced by $6 million.
Despite these harmful cuts, we can point to some small victories. While the Governor’s proposed budget would have reduced funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing programs by 52%, this money was included in the final budget. Additionally, the Governor’s proposal to reduce the lifetime availability of TANF from five years to three years—knocking 6,000 children and 3,000 families off the program immediately. Thankfully, through our work with the Department of Human Services and with our allies, we were able to ensure that the TANF lifetime limit remained at five years.
In sum, this was a tough year for low-income and vulnerable families. Many will certainly be affected by budget cuts and Medicaid reforms. While we are grateful to have reinstated and preserved certain key programs, we know this is not enough in the long run. PCG will continue to work for those most in need. We will keep you informed about ways in which you can continue to be a part of this important advocacy work.
Stay tuned for our next edition of the Common Good News where we’ll provide you with the legislative round-up on our specific work on minimum wage, criminal justice issues, and environmental issues.