In last year’s elections, Illinois elected a Republican governor for the first time since 1999. Since assuming control of the state’s highest office, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been pushing a conservative agenda that hasn’t been present for a while in the typically blue state. He’s a vocal supporter of the anti-labor union “right-to-work” laws, an issue which was covered extensively by the New York Times. In his latest attempt at reducing the state’s budget, Rauner is taking aim at mental health and other social services.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Rauner has proposed cuts to the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health totaling $82 million. As the graphic below shows, $54.4 million would be saved through discontinued services, with an additional $27.6 million saved through reduced services. Among Rauner’s targets are psychiatry funds, community services and housing for the homeless. A total of $13 million toward housing for the homeless would be lost.
Rauner claims that the services he would cut are covered by the federal Affordable Care Act, easing the burden on the state to pay for mental health. That’s partially true, but Obamacare doesn’t include any assistance for homeless individuals seeking housing. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates Illinois’ homeless population at 14,055. According to the same organization, mental illness is the third largest cause of homelessness for homeless adults. Rauner’s cuts would be an unnecessary reduction in services to the segment of the state’s population that needs the most help.
Some estimate that Rauner’s cuts will also actually lead to an increase in costs in other areas. If the community services are removed, more mentally ill individuals could end up in hospitals or in jail. The costs of treating them would still be there, but the benefit of preventative measures and support would be removed. “It is short-sighted, because you’re just going to move people from one system that’s relatively cost-effective and inexpensive into a more expensive system,” said Eileen Durkin, president and CEO of Community Counseling Centers of Chicago.
Rauner ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and the state’s progressives are now being subjected to his expected cuts in social services. According to Progressive Illinois, Rauner’s $31.5 billion budget proposal is $4.1 billion less than the current budget. The site also reports that the state is facing a $6 billion budget deficit in the next fiscal year. “This budget is honest with the people of Illinois, and it presents an honest path forward. Now is the time to start on a responsible path after years of financial recklessness,” Rauner said. He’s correct that the state needs to get back on the right financial path, but there’s nothing responsible about cutting funds to mental health and housing for the homeless.