Metro-East News

Local social-service agencies join coalition in suit against Rauner, state

More than five dozen social service agencies, including two based in the metro-east, sued Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday for $100 million in overdue payments, perhaps an inevitable byproduct of the historic 10-month budget stalemate.

Pay Now Illinois — which comprises agencies that offer health care, youth and elderly counseling, prenatal and parenting services, programs to combat sexual assault and homelessness and more — alleges the state hasn’t paid them in 300 days and owes $100 million. — filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

“We can't keep functioning in this way despite our commitment to our mission,” coalition chairwoman Andrea Durbin said.

The Republican governor’s stalemate with legislative Democrats over a budget that should have started July 1 has entered its 11th month.

The lawsuit alleges Rauner created an “unconstitutional” situation by vetoing appropriations to pay for the services and then enforcing contract terms anyway.

The service providers blame Rauner’s total veto last summer of legislation that would have covered the cost of their work; Rauner said it was part of an out-of-balance spending plan sent him by legislative Democrats.

“While we understand that frustration is driving many worthwhile organizations to seek solutions anywhere, including the courts, the only solution is for the General Assembly to pass a balanced, reform-oriented budget as soon as possible,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in an email.

Even though no budget is in place, several consent decrees and court orders are in place, and more than 90 percent of the 2014-15 spending levels are being paid out in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Among the organizations to join in the lawsuit are Alton-based Senior Services Plus and Belleville-based Caritas Family Services.

Senior Services PLus, which has a contract to help seniors stay in their homes and not go into a nursing home, is owed $2.1 million.

Most of the money is from the current fiscal year, but some of it dates back to 2014, said Jonathan Becker, executive director of Senior Services Plus.

Through its home-care program, Senior Services employees help with laundry, meal preparation, transportation, shopping and cleaning, among other things.

Becker said it costs $21 a day for a senior to have the home-care program, but $150 a day to be in a nursing home.

“It’s more cost-effective to keep them (at) home rather than have them go into a nursing home,” Becker said.

Becker said his agency is honoring its side of a contract, but the state isn’t paying for the service. The agency even has had to borrow $385,000 to pay its obligations.

“We operate in good faith with the state,” Becker said. “These aren’t grants, these are contracts. We provide this service in good faith with the state of Illinois ... We have to pay our bills, our staff, our employment taxes.”

However, not providing services to a customer that’s not paying is not an option, he said.

“Like any other business, we expect to get paid for the services we’re providing,” Becker said. “This is a service we consider most essential... It’s part of our mission. It serves the most vulnerable seniors in our community. This is what social services are about, serving the populations that are the most vulnerable.”

Gary Huelsmann, the CEO of Caritas Family Solutions, said the state owes his organization $350,000.

Even though Caritas performs many services for the state, it is not being paid for its Multisystemic Therapy service, a program that aims to keep juveniles out of the court system, and its Senior Assisted Living services.

“Both save the state millions of dollars,” Huelsmann said.

Caritas applied and received a grant to maintain its staff levels and not lose any of its experience levels, Huelsmann said.

He added the state is operating on the backs of nonprofits and social service providers.

“It’s a simple business decision really,” Huelsmann said. “We enter into contracts, we’re expecting to be paid for services we are providing. The state needs help to understand they need to follow basic contract law.”

The lawsuit, which also targets the directors of the Department on Aging and the departments of Human Services, Public Health, Healthcare and Family Services and Corrections, alleges Rauner created an “unconstitutional impairment” of the contracts in his June 25, 2015, veto because the administration subsequently insisted on enforcing contract terms despite having no money to pay.

The complaint also alleges the veto ruled out the normal remedy for such situations. Unpaid state bills go to the Court of Claims, which awards payment based on contracts backed by spending authorized by the governor.

The complaint demands immediate payment. No hearing has been scheduled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter