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DHS seeks bigger budget, including $107 million for higher minimum wage

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Thursday, April 11, 2019  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Budget--State (8) , Human Services (75) , Minimum Wage (10) Righter, Dale--State Senate, 55 , Villivalam, Ram--State Senate, 8
The Illinois Department of Human Services, which has one of the largest line items in the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, is seeking additional money to cover the cost of the state's new minimum wage and expand access to child care assistance.

A Senate appropriations committee discussed Senate Bill 2228 this week. The measure asks for a total of $6.8 billion for DHS. Among the various line items is $28.5 million to help the aged, blind or disabled, $134.2 million for temporary assistance for the needy. There's another line item is $431.7 million for Child Care Services.

Included in the increased funding request is $107.4 million for increasing the minimum wage of certain caregivers paid with tax dollars. That money would be appropriated for grants to service providers for cost-of-living adjustments and rate increases associated with changes in the minimum wage, according to the bill.

DHS Secretary Designate Grace Hou said as negotiations with the Service Employees International Union continue, that amount could change.

“Which I know is not a satisfactory answer,” Hou said. “I think there’s a lot more work that we would need to do to come up with a precise answer.”

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, opposed the minimum wage increase when it was passed and signed into law earlier this year.

“Because we don’t know what we don’t know yet and one of them is exactly this,” Righter said. “And that is the pressure that would put on providers and therefore taxpayers through your budget to get to a number.”

Righter and other Republicans opposed increasing the minimum wage. They said it would lead to increased government expenses, which in turn would lead to higher taxes or service cuts.

Another proposed increase is for the Child Care Assistance Program.

Parents at 185 percent of the federal poverty line can get child care assistance now. DHS is looking to increase that to 200 percent, which could cost about $30 million more.

Righter said that before putting more money into the program, DHS needs to figure out why there’s $100 million in unused funding for the program with the existing income threshold.

“Going to 200 or 215 [percent of the FPL] is good eye candy,” Righter said, “but if we’re leaving people on the table who have less money than that, nobody wants that. Nobody wants that. I don’t care what party you are, nobody wants that.”

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, agreed there needs to be an answer why there’s excess money at the lower threshold.

“I’m supportive of increasing the eligibility, but we have 69 percent of the families that are eligible that are not part of the program,” Villivalam said.

Villivalam said some money needs to be set aside to reach out to those who are eligible for the benefit, but not using it.

Other spending in the proposed DHS budget includes $11 million for mental health and developmental disabilities special projects, $12 million for the Vocational Rehabilitation Fund, more than $6 million for grants and other expenses associated with immigrant integration services, $1.5 million for welcoming centers and $10 million for a technology initiative, among other requests.

DHS officials also asked for a supplemental request of $80 million for the current budget for the home services program for health insurance, wage increases and caseload increases.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed a $39 billion state budget. Lawmakers have until the end of May to pass a budget with simple majorities.