Please note: The Week in Review is compiled by the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus each week as a public service to provide constituents with information about legislative action and activities during the week.
Springfield, Ill. – Despite recent passage of Medicaid reforms requiring timely implementation of cost-saving measures intended to save the state $350 million each year, the Quinn Administration recently announced intentions to push back completion of an important component of the legislation until January 2013—an unnecessary delay Republican lawmakers say could blow a hole in the state budget, said State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).
Additionally, recent news reports show Illinois businesses continue to lay off employees and reveal an increasing state prison population which reinforces the need for a long range plan to combat prison overcrowding.
Governor Quinn’s Mortgage Relief Project, a part of the new Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network (IFPN), is coming to Downers Grove. The event, to be held on Saturday, October 6th at Downers Grove North High School, is meant to help struggling west suburban homeowners take advantage of programs that can help them save their homes from foreclosure. Sen. Sandack is co-hosting the event with Sate Representative Chris Nybo (R-Lombard).
The Mortgage Relief Project offers property owners free on-site assistance to rework their mortgages and prevent foreclosure. The free workshops will be held from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (registration closes at 12 noon) on Saturday, October 6, 2012 in the cafeteria at Downers Grove North High School, 4436 Main Street, Downers Grove, IL 60515. To learn more information, please visit Sen. Sanadck’s website at www.senatorsandack.com.
Republican leaders called on Governor Pat Quinn on Sept. 17 to implement, without delay, the bipartisan Medicaid reform law passed this spring. The measure is expected to achieve millions in projected cost savings, and ensure Medicaid assistance remains available to low-income and disabled residents who rely on the programs and services.
The lawmakers expressed concerns that the Quinn Administration is dragging its heels on implementation of one of the major provisions in the law, which requires the State to utilize a private vendor to review eligibility based on ability to pay and residency. Sen. Sandack said this reform is anticipated to scrub as many as 300,000 ineligible individuals off the Medicaid rolls and save the state $350 million. However, Administration officials recently announced their intention to delay implementation of this provision until January 2013, a full six months into the state’s current fiscal year.
Illinois’ Medicaid reform law contains tight timeframes for the procurement of the eligibility verification vendor to ensure that the eligibility reviews begin in a timely manner. While the requirements for an initial procurement to be conducted within 60 days, and for a contract to be signed within 30 days of a vendor being selected, have been met, delays in eligibility reviews becoming operational pose the potential to hinder this crucial reform.
Republicans explained that the budget was crafted under the assumption the state would achieve $350 million in cost savings through the prompt and timely implementation of the reform. They expressed concerns that any delay in moving forward with the eligibility verification reform will not only blow a hole in the budget, but will threaten funding for the eligible individuals and families who need assistance.
A letter detailing lawmakers’ concerns was sent to the Quinn Administration, and House Resolution 1225 was also filed urging the eligibility measures and standards to be fully operational by Oct. 1, 2012. The resolution also requested the Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services provide a monthly briefing to the Legislative Medicaid Advisory Committing on the implementation status of the reform.
In addition to this one provision, there are dozens of other reforms that total close to $1.3 billion that are included in the Medicaid reform law. These also need to be implemented during the current fiscal year.
In other recent news, a report by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity shows that eight months into 2012 Illinois companies have already laid off more than 10,000 employees. The August figures also show that seven Illinois companies plan to lay off another 1,100 workers.
The expected layoffs identified by DCEO touch virtually every area of the state and included facilities in Roanoke, LaSalle, Mount Vernon, Libertyville and Benton.
The economic recession is a central factor in poor business performance, layoffs and unemployment around the nation; however, an additional factor in Illinois’ slow recovery is a decidedly anti-business environment that is not conducive to employers starting or expanding their businesses.
Tax hikes, deficit spending, failure to pass critical reforms in workers' compensation and other areas, a legal environment that fosters lawsuits and uncertainty about the ability of the state to meet its obligations have all contributed to a weakened jobs climate in Illinois, with the state frequently lagging behind its neighbors in job creation and employment. These factors have also contributed to many people leaving the state and taking residence elsewhere.
“People are leaving Illinois now,” Sen. Sandack said. “Many more are planning on leaving Illinois relatively soon. I believe the size, scope and expense of state government must be restructured and drastically reduced in order for our state’s long-term fortunes to improve and stem the exodus tide.”
For years, Senate Republicans have argued that state government’s role should be one of assistance, not interference. But, beginning with the election of Rod Blagojevich and continuing under Pat Quinn, the focus has consistently been on increased regulation, adding new costs and raising taxes on employers. The result has been a slower pace of recovery for Illinois than in other states.
Finally, news reports from the Associated Press revealed this week that Illinois prisons have reached a record number of prisoners. According to their findings, the AP found that state correctional facilities are now housing more than 49,000 inmates. The facilities are designed to hold no more than 33,700 inmates. The Department of Corrections, DOC, has disputed the AP’s numbers although they were obtained from the DOC’s public website.
Regardless of the exact number, at a time when the Governor has considered closing multiple state correctional facilities the trend of overcrowding poses a serious concern.
Earlier this year, Governor Pat Quinn scheduled the closure of Tamms and Dwight correctional facilities despite the record number of inmates in Illinois prisons. The closures have since been postponed due to court proceedings.
Senate Republican lawmakers have long-sounded the alarm on the dangers of closing facilities without long range planning.
In 2008, when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich sought to use prison closures as a political club, Senator Radogno toured state correctional facilities with then-senator Dan Rutherford to highlight the need for objective, long-range planning for all state facilities. Senator Radogno has carried legislation that would create an independent panel to review the state's correctional system in order to create a long-term plan for the state's prison facilities.
Radogno's legislation would look at such issues as the physical condition of the state's prisons, staffing levels, prison employee and prisoner safety, the composition of prison populations, the proximity of prisoners to family and the economic impact on the region and the state.
Free pension counseling services are now available for Illinois residents. The Pension Action Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston recently received a grant from the Chicago-based Retirement Research Foundation to expand their services to Illinois.
According to their website, the Pension Action Center has the expertise and experience to handle a variety of issues related to retirement income benefits from private employers, including eligibility and vesting, payment of benefits, overpayments, union pensions, 401(k) plans, survivor benefits, pensions in divorce, and more.
Illinois has a significant number of people who have participated in pension plans, but it was not among the states that were a part of the U.S. Administration on Aging Pension Counseling and Information Project. Now, due to the grant provided by the Retirement Research Foundation, the Pension Action Center will be able to help residents increase their knowledge of and access to retirement income benefits.
To learn more information, please visit their website at www.umb.edu/pensionaction/ipap or call toll free at 888-425-6067.
Sen. Sandack spent several days this week speaking to different organizations around the district. Wednesday, he spoke to a group of State Farm employees, and on Thursday, he spoke to the Illinois Financial Services Association and the Risk Insurance Strategic Claims Management Association. Sen. Sandack said he talked mostly about the current issues involving the state and what can be done to help Illinois.