By Monique Garcia
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday used his veto powers on several bills aimed at increasing help for the state's most vulnerable, rejecting measures that would increase wages for workers who care for people with developmental disabilities and expand a child care program for low-income families.
The Republican governor said his opposition to the proposals lawmakers sent him is simple: There just isn't enough money to go around. It's the same argument he's used to block efforts to fund social service groups during the budget impasse. The moves also further fueled the anger of labor groups and providers who contend they've been repeatedly targeted by Rauner and forced to bear the brunt of the state's financial troubles.
At issue is legislation pushed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that would raise the minimum wage for so-called direct support personnel to $15 an hour. Those workers help the developmentally disabled with daily tasks ranging from cooking and cleaning to taking medication.
Providers say their average hourly wage is about $9.35, which they said has led to a severe staffing shortage that's forced some group homes to close and leave many families without the help they need. Two days earlier, Rauner himself acknowledged the "documented critical and growing shortage of direct support professionals throughout the United States" in a proclamation declaring that a week in September would honor support workers.
Art Dykstra, CEO of Trinity Services, a nonprofit that provides care for people with disabilities, said the state's "service system is crumbling.
"We are getting to the point where we will have to ask families to consider taking their loved ones home on weekends because we can't adequately staff the houses," he said in a statement.
In his veto message, Rauner said the pay hike would cost the state an additional $330 million a year, adding that the bill provides no way to cover the added expense. Rauner said the proposed pay increase was "significantly above" the national average, which he put at $10.71.
"We should first acknowledge the difficult and important work of these professionals, who assist persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in residential and day programs," Rauner said. "Many of these professionals have not had a wage increase in years. I am open to finding a responsible way to increase wages for these professionals, but unfortunately this bill is not the answer."
Rauner also vetoed a bill that would have expanded eligibility requirements for low-income families to receive child care assistance. The measure was designed to provide access for thousands of poor families struggling to juggle work and school or providing care for their children. The move came after Rauner toughened eligibility last year, cutting services for many families.
"I'm disappointed that the governor chose to turn his back on parents working to give their children a better life," said sponsoring state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood.
Rauner said such a large expansion could ultimately threaten the child care program altogether, saying without funding to go along with it, parents may be asked to pay higher copays, or see long waitlists.
"None of which would best serve the interests of the children that this legislation is intended to support," Rauner said in his veto message. "The state of Illinois can no longer make spending promises that exceed available revenues."
Meanwhile, Rauner used his amendatory veto power to rewrite legislation that would have required the state to give those who do business with state government 30 days written notice if their contract was being suspended or reduced, and 120 days written notice if those changes were due to a "lack of appropriations." That's the technical term for what has happened to many groups that were on the hook to provide services for the state, but were not paid because of the budget impasse.
Rauner said that time frame is too long and should be reduced, adding that it should only apply to social service providers who do things like care for the elderly and disabled, not all companies that contract with the state.
(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune