Topinka: Agencies face $1 billion shortfall

CHICAGO (AP) – Illinois’ top fiscal officer urged lawmakers Monday to transfer more than $1 billion from financially sound state programs to agencies that are in danger of running out of money, including some that serve seniors, children and the disabled.

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said the supplemental funds are needed so the agencies can pay for services through this fiscal year, which ends in June.

“We need to end the denial and address those budget shortfalls before they jeopardize critical services that our residents depend on,” said Topinka, a Republican.

She said a health insurance fund for state workers faces a $900 million shortfall. The Department of Aging needs an estimated $200 million for a program that helps seniors and people with disabilities in home-based settings; workers compensation has requested an additional $82 million; and the Department of Children and Family Services needs about $25 million to avoid laying off child-welfare workers, she said.

Jerry Stermer, budget director for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, issued a similar warning to the House Revenue and Finance Committee in November.

Quinn’s office worked to pass legislation during the recent lame duck legislative session that would have addressed some of the funding issues, but the problems remain. At least one bill – which would have allocated money to avoid the child welfare layoffs – failed to get out of a Senate committee due to various concerns, including that it would take away money that had been promised to other programs.

Abdon Pallasch, Quinn’s assistant budget director, said Monday that discussions with lawmakers are continuing.

“We have been pressing the General Assembly for months to restore this critical funding,” Pallasch said. “There is a human cost for this underfunding.”

Last year, more than 40,000 child care providers were notified they wouldn’t get state funding for three months because the child care fund had run out of cash. Legislators later moved $73.6 million from other parts of the budget to supplement the fund, but not until after the child care providers panicked after receiving letters saying there was no more money, said Brad Hahn, a spokesman for Topinka.

He said Topinka wants to avoid a similar situation this year.

The funding problems are just one piece of the state budget that’s in crisis. Illinois also has a $96 billion unfunded pension liability – the worst shortfall in the nation – and a backlog of unpaid bills estimated at more than $9 billion.

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