Metro-East News

Judge dismisses lawsuit that would have forced the state to pay social service agencies

The St. Clair County Circuit Court has dismissed a lawsuit against Gov. Bruce Rauner and state agencies that would have forced timely payments for tens of millions of dollars of services provided by Illinois-based human and social service agencies under a contract dating back to July 2016.

Judge Robert P. LeChien dismissed the case Monday, citing the precedence established in another dismissal in a separate lawsuit filed by Pay Now Illinois.

“We obviously are disappointed by the decision in St. Clair County, and are considering our options,” said Andrea Durbin, Pay Now Illinois chair. “All along, we’ve sought to determine what legal options there are to enforce contracts under the law and to ensure that social and human service organizations get paid for the work they are doing on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

The lawsuit was filed by Pay Now Illinois in February and had 37 plaintiffs, including Caritas Family Solutions, based in Belleville; Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities, a statewide organization that operates in southern Illinois; and Children’s Home and Aid, a statewide organization that has offices in Granite City, Belleville and East St. Louis.

Pay Now Illinois has requested an extension of the deadline of a similar lawsuit in Cook County to decide if they want to appeal the dismissal to the Illinois Supreme Court, Durbin said. Their goal is to make sure this issue with contracts doesn’t happen again, that anyone who enters into a contract can get paid in a reasonable time period.

“This isn’t charity, this is contractual work,” Durbin said. “We held up our end of the bargain, we expect the state to hold up it’s end.”

In the lawsuit, the social service agencies asked the state to pay them what they were owed under their contracts, regardless of what the state had appropriated. The state, however, relied heavily on a prior court decision that said it’s unconstitutional to pay the money owed in the contracts because there was no appropriations available.

Now that Illinois has passed a budget, there is at least some certainty that providers will be paid eventually, Durbin said.

This lawsuit comes two years after a St. Clair County judge ruled that the state must pay state employees on a timely basis, even if there wasn’t a budget or agreed-to appropriations between the General Assembly and the governor.

Gov. Rauner’s office did not respond for comment Thursday.