Illinois Cuts Programs for Needy, Gives Workers Raises

Published May 28, 2013

Illinois’ government workers could get a raise as programs for the needy are cut.

A proposed human services budget includes tens of millions of dollars for public employee pay raises. The proposed budget trims programs that provide Meals on Wheels, eyeglasses and dental visits for those who cannot afford them.

“Lawmakers are making a clear decision who they value,” said Kristina Rasmussen, vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute. “The state is handing out pay increases to these [state workers] at the expense of the needy citizens those workers are supposed to serve.”

Dems Defend Raises

Democrats at the Illinois Capitol are quick to say the pay raises were agreed to by Gov. Pat Quinn (D) years ago, and Illinois has been ordered by a judge to finally pay them.

“A lot of these state workers are providing services at our state hospitals and nursing homes,” added state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who wrote the human service spending plan.

But a lot of those state workers are also making a lot of money.

$100K Compensation

“The average salary is close to $74,000 a year,” Rasmussen said a study by her group revealed earlier this year. “Once you add pensions and benefits the total is over $100,000 a year.”

For the Department of Human Services alone, raises will cost $62 million.

State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) said taxpayers and those who depend on the state are getting the short end of that deal.

“The majority of people with regular jobs are not getting a raise this year,” Bellock said, noting that Illinois’ unemployment rate is hovering near 10 percent.

“The biggest piece of every [human service] agency budget is for salaries and benefits,” Bellock said.

Illinois’ human service budget is the biggest single piece of the state’s $35 billion overall spending plan.

Lump Sum Flexibility

Harris said he left it up to the different agencies to decide how to spend their piece of the budget.

“We gave everyone lump sums,” Harris explained. “We tried not to micromanage individual agencies and tell them how to spend their money.”

Richard Calica, director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said he will cover the cost of millions of dollars in raises by not filling vacant jobs at the agency tasked with protecting at-risk children.

Bellock worries DCFS is setting itself up for long-term problems.

“We should be looking at ways not to cut programs or services that necessary,” Bellock said.

More Federal Money

Harris is quick to point out the state will spend a little less of its own money next year, but will spend “hundreds of millions more” in federal dollars.

Bellock’s arithmetic differs. She said Illinois will spend anywhere between $45 million and $85 million more on human services this year. Much of that new spending will go to state workers.

Benjamin Yount ([email protected]) reports for Used with permission.