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Addiction Treatment Providers Still Fear State Cuts

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After telling 909 Illinois addiction treatment centers they would lose all funding by June 30 when the fiscal year ends, Gov. Pat Quinn reversed his decision last week. Addiction treatment providers are relieved, but say they fear it’s only temporary.

“We’re not going to be completely happy until we know this is not going to happen three months from now,” said Sara Moscato Howe, executive director of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, which represents more than 50 treatment, prevention and recovery agencies across the state.

The agencies Moscato Howe’s association represents were among the alcohol and substance abuse treatment facilities that would not have received any funding – $28 million in threatened funds.

The governor’s budget office said in mid-February it would need to immediately cut money from the Illinois Department of Human Services. The department called addiction treatment centers that have non-Medicaid addiction programs on Feb. 18 to inform them cuts would take effect as early as March 15.

Moscato Howe said agencies stopped taking clients for three weeks – until Quinn put $21 million back Thursday.

“[Clients in] Central Illinois walked out and said I have no hope – I’m going to die now,” she said. “We don’t know where those people are. Even though these cuts didn’t go through, it doesn’t mean lives weren’t impacted.”

The Illinois Alcohol and Drug Dependence Association reported that the cut would have resulted in an estimated 55,000 low-income clients being denied services over the next 12 months and the loss of more than 5,000 treatment center workers’ jobs.

Moscato Howe said within the last two years the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association has lost 50 percent of its funding and has reduced services from about 100,000 people to 70,000.

“We were shocked and relieved. We went from 100 percent cuts to no cuts at all,” said Bruce Suardini, CEO of Prairie Center Health Systems in Urbana. “It was a real rollercoaster.”

Prairie Center’s total budget is $4.5 million, with $2.2 million – or 48 percent of its annual funding – coming from the state, and, according to Suardini,  that amount has declined every year for the past four years. The agency serves 5,000 people annually.

Suardini said the Prairie Centers, which include his Urbana office, and offices in Champaign, Ford and Vermilion County, would have lost $1.345 million in all.

Even though cuts were not made this year, agencies are worried about next year. The governor still plans to cut all funding from alcohol and substance abuse centers for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011 – a move Suardini said is appalling.

Moscato Howe said providers will continue to work with legislators like Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) to let the governor know how important these funds are to the agencies.

On Feb. 22 Rep. Feigenholtz introduced House Resolution 106, a non-binding resolution which was also a symbolic message to the governor to reverse the cuts which had 33 co-sponsors.

Moscato Howe said state funding is critical because 80 percent of the people who need addiction treatment are not eligible for Medicaid and rely on it. Medicaid is a health program for families with low-incomes and minimal resources.

Allen Sandusky is the president and CEO of the South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, an agency that serves 28,000 people annually in 47 South Suburban communities, including Calumet City, Tinley Park, Harvey and Oak Forest. Out of its annual budget of $3.2 million, it receives $2.2 million in general revenue – or 69 percent from the state – which has declined progressively in recent years.

Sandusky said agencies like his just want substance abuse prevention and treatment to be given a fair chance when it comes to budget reductions.

“Our experience in substance abuse treatment is that our budget continuously gets treated unfairly and consistently gets targeted for disproportionate cuts in relationship to other areas of state government and to other areas within DHS,” he said.

Sandusky said providers know money has to be cut, but Quinn’s plan to take all revenue from treatment centers is unreasonable.

“There is a general understanding that budget reductions are inevitable,” he said. “Hopefully, reason will prevail for next year’s budget as our legislative bodies begin the budget development process and works with the governor on a more responsible proposal.”

Sara Moscato Howe and all addiction treatment providers are preparing for July. She said the cuts need to stop.

“Let’s be clear that they’ve cut more than enough,” she said. “We’re not where they need to be making cuts.”

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