Tuesday, February 05, 2013

House approves funding for DCFS, mental health and construction

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois House approved new spending for the current fiscal year that would avert layoffs in the Department of Children and Family Services and restore funding to mental health providers.

House Bill 190 calls for about $53 million in spending from the General Revenue Fund. Sponsor Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the money would come from Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget vetoes and revenues that exceeded estimates in the budget that lawmakers passed in the spring. Currie estimated about $58 million is available from those sources. DCFS would get $25 million, which would allow the agency to defer layoffs. Without the money, DCFS has claimed it would have to eliminate to two-thirds of its staff. The legislation also contains $12 million that lawmakers who worked on the human services budget say was accidentally cut from mental health funding.

“There’s nothing new, unusual, strange or odd about this bill. Those of you who care about mental health funding in the community, this is your chance to say, 'Yes, here is the $12 million we thought we already gave you.’ Those of you who want to see to it that there is staff in the Department of Children and Family Services to answer the hotline, $25 million goes into this budget for staff at DCFS,” Currie said. The bill also contains more than $700 million in capital construction funding, including money for bridges, roads and museums.

Some Republicans argued that unnecessary spending was attached to sympathetic causes, such as DCFS, in order to push it through. “I am so tired of the other side of this aisle telling me I don’t care about anything. I’m sick of it,” said Elmhurst Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti. “What I care about are the people of the state of Illinois, and funding the things that we need to fund and prioritizing them. ... Just because I don’t vote for this bill doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

Hinsdale Republican Rep. Patti Bellock said she wanted to support the funding for DCFS and mental health. “A lot of us have concerns, especially about the mental health funding, because we realize that that was a mistake in the original budget process. A lot of us have concerns about DFCS because we don’t want to see children hurt by the programs that might be deleted.” But Bellock said she was worried that supporters of the plan may have overestimated what is available and that other costs might spring up as Quinn continues to close state facilities. “There are a lot of concerns that the numbers are not correct, even in the major portion of the bill in the general revenue fund.”

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