This Week in Illinois

FY16 Budget
Comptroller Munger: Early Intervention payments will be made. Comptroller, DHS agree EI services fall under active consent decree.

Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced Wednesday that her office is setting up accounts and will immediately begin making payments to Early Intervention providers as soon as it receives vouchers from the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Munger learned from her Nonprofit Advisory Council last week that Early Intervention services were "slipping through the cracks" of consent decrees requiring payments during the budget impasse, and she contacted DHS officials to discuss what payment options were available. After looking more closely at several active consent decrees, DHS and the Comptroller agreed that Early Intervention services were covered and they immediately began setting up the processes for making payments to providers.

"I know the tremendous benefits that Early Intervention services can provide to our delayed and disabled infants and toddlers, and I was extremely concerned when I learned many providers would likely be suspending their vital therapeutic services at the end of this month," Munger said. "My office is working today to set up the accounts and we will immediately begin making payments to Early Intervention providers as soon as we receive vouchers from DHS so we can avoid further hardships."

Early Intervention providers, who work on development strategies with disabled infants and toddlers, are the latest group in a growing list of organizations to be penalized by the ramifications of the budget impasse, now in its third month. Munger announced last week that the current $6.2 billion bill backlog is expected to grow to $8.5 billion by the end of December if the impasse continues.

"It is time for members of the General Assembly to sit down with the Governor to find common ground and pass a balanced budget so we can fund our critical priorities," Munger said.

Other states besides Illinois have also not passed a working budget for current fiscal year. States operating as of Monday, September 14, without a twelve-month budget include Alabama, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Large, urbanized states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania are proving to be especially vulnerable to budget pressures, especially when the Governor’s office and the state legislature are in separate hands.

In both Illinois and Pennsylvania, Republicans have proposed significant reductions in State spending trajectories and the so-called “structural deficit,” and their proposals have been rejected by Democrats. Long-term spending pressures, especially in urbanized states, tend to be driven by Medicaid health care costs, pay and benefits for public-sector workers, and the costs of taking care of a chronologically older and slower-growing population demographic.

Economy – Unemployment Rate
Illinois unemployment rate drops to 5.6%. The jobless percentage for August 2015 was down 0.2% from the July 2015 report of 5.8%. The decrease in the unemployment rate was not, however, accompanied by new job creation. Total nonfarm Illinois jobs remained flat at 5.92 million. The August jobless numbers were reported on Thursday, September 17.

Continued declines in the number of Illinoisans engaged in the production of tangible goods – mining, construction, and manufacturing - was matched by the continued creation of new jobs in financial activities and educational and health services. The number of Illinoisans employed in tangible-goods sectors declined by 4,200 from July to August 2015, and the number of Illinoisans employed in financial/educational/health care professional-service sectors increased by 5,000. These trends have been in place for some time.

Illinois unemployment remained significantly higher than the nationwide figure of 5.1%. In addition, many states adjacent to Illinois are reporting lower unemployment rates than the Prairie State. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2015 unemployment rates were 4.6% in Indiana, 4.5% in Wisconsin, and 3.7% in Iowa. House Republicans continue to call for enactment of measures to improve Illinois’ climate as a place to do business, invent and distribute useful goods and services, and create jobs.

Education – PARCC tests
Continued controversy over PARCC tests. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a standardized test of English and math skills administered to high school students in Colorado, Illinois Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island, and under active consideration for use in other states. The PARCC test has been granted Common Core standing as a tool to show whether or not the so-called Common Core state standards are being met in high school classrooms.

This week, PARCC-related news hit many Illinois school systems as Illinois Superintendent of School Tony Smith issued a warning to districts throughout Illinois. The heads’ up notice was that PARCC first-year test results, many of which are “raw numbers” at this point that have not yet been sorted by individual school or rebalanced for social and demographic weighting factors, will come in below expectations for schools enrolling almost 70% of Illinois students. The warnings began to circulate on Tuesday, September 15.

The 2014-15 school year was the first school year of attempted full implementation of the PARCC testing system throughout Illinois. Not all PARCC test results are included in the September report. PARCC tests performed by pupils by paper-and-pencil and special waivers that covered an estimated one-quarter of all Illinois PARCC tests done in the 2014-15 testing cycle, are not part of this data report and may be reported at a later date. Some districts may succeed in improving their PARCC scores as they gain familiarity with the testing system. In addition, raw PARCC numbers may not convey valid information in the absence of information about the assumptions used in matching these numbers with the challenges faced by various school districts throughout Illinois.

Illinois State Lottery
General Assembly investigates Illinois State Lottery, finds diminishment in returns. The nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) found that in FY15 (ended June 30, 2015), transfers to State funds from the Lottery dropped by $125 million from transfers in FY14. This was the first such decline since 2009. Most of this diminishment was borne by the Capital Projects Fund, as surplus Lottery profits are allocated to State and local infrastructure. The Capital Projects Fund received $145 million in FY14 and just $8 million in FY15, resulting in slowdowns in the release of funds for a wide variety of State-funded capital projects including school construction projects.

Press accounts of the CGFA report were, in some cases, slightly misleading. Some of the news stories presented the drop in Illinois State Lottery profits as a red-ink number rather than a diminished black-ink number. The State Lottery is currently highly vulnerable to bad publicity, as in the absence of an FY16 budget it is legally barred from paying out prizes greater than $25,000. Winners of large prizes are being presented with Lottery IOUs rather than cash, and litigation is pending.

The CGFA report, “Wagering in Illinois: 2015” was released on Thursday, September 17.

Infectious Disease – Mumps
Cases of mumps diagnosed at Eastern Illinois University campus. The infectious viral disease, which causes symptoms resembling those of severe flu combined with swelling of the cheeks and salivary glands of the jawline, had previously been diagnosed at the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Officials at the Charleston-based Eastern Illinois University (EIU) reported on Tuesday, September 15 that two cases of mumps had been diagnosed at EIU so far in September 2015. This outbreak followed the diagnosis of approximately 100 cases of mumps at UIUC in the summer of 2015.

As mumps is highly contagious, persons who suspect they may have come down with this illness may choose to begin by seeking a distance diagnosis. They may choose to contact a primary medical care provider by text or phone to describe their symptoms. Many Illinois residents are resistant to mumps as a result of having been vaccinated for the disease in childhood. A relatively safe, effective anti-virus vaccine will protect children from measles, mumps, and other viral diseases. The protection, typically administered when the baby is 12 to 15 months old, continues into adulthood for those who have been vaccinated for these diseases.

In some outbreak situations, public health providers will administer mumps shots to adults on college campuses and in other environments where the illness has broken out among those who were not vaccinated as children. Adults who are at risk may choose to get these vaccinations, as mumps can have severe and lasting side effects.

Smoke-Free Law – Beer Gardens
New administrative rule tries to crack down on enclosed smoking, adds to confusion. The Smoke-Free Illinois Act, enacted in 2007, is aimed at reducing involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke. Language in the law forbids smoking tobacco indoors in public places, including casino floors, bars and taverns. Some bars and taverns have opened “beer gardens” in which patrons are allowed to smoke.

New administrative rules from the Illinois Department of Public Health are meant to clarify the situations in which outdoor smoking will be allowed. Many tavern owners and operators report being confused and challenged by the new rules and say that they are getting legal advice that indicates that full compliance with the new rules could completely end smoking in beer gardens. A push has begun to scrutinize and possibly modify the new rules.

State Government – Health Insurance
No budget leads to health care concerns for State workers, retirees, and health care providers. 363,000 current and retired State workers, which include university employees and family members covered by the State of Illinois’ group insurance program, could be affected. A spokeswoman for the Department of Central Management Services (CMS), which operates the program, pointed out that a key element of the program – payments to health care providers – is one of the spending items affected by the inability of Illinois to enact a workable State budget for FY16. The new fiscal year began on July 1, 2015, and this is the 11th week without a State budget.

The first group of health insurance plans to be affected are self-insured plans often utilized by retirees. CMS stated that all State-supervised health care payments for workers, retirees, and their families would be paid as long as possible. Stoppage of payments would presumably cause a significant percentage of health care professionals to ask for alternate pathways of compensation, including immediate, up-front compensation from patients, for services provided to members of these groups.