As a Catholic, I remember waiting with baited breath twice in the last dozen years or so to see who the College of Cardinals had selected as the next Pope. When a pope is chosen, white smoke billows out of the Sistine Chapel and the Cardinals soon appear on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to announce to the world, “Habemus Papum” or “We have a Pope”.
In much the same way, the citizens of Illinois waited to see if the 2 years of high stakes drama would culminate in an override of the Governor’s veto of the first budget passed by the General Assembly since the Governor vetoed the last one presented to him in the first half of 2015. The July 4th holiday week saw many heave a collective sigh of relief when the budget veto was overridden. We have a budget. (Habemus Budget).
While much ado is being made about the income tax rates increasing from 3.75% of income to 4.95% of income (yes, this is a 32% increase because 32% of 3.75& is 1.2%, the difference between the old rate and the new rate), retirees WILL NOT see their retirement income (pensions or IRA disbursements) taxed. Illinois remains one of 13 states that do not tax retirement income.
The budget ostensibly cuts spending and raises taxes to create the most balanced budget known to Illinois in years. While it cuts spending 5% across the board for all agencies, it does include funding for some vital services available to seniors, including:
- Fully funding the Community Care Program for low income seniors who need extra assistance to continue to live independently in their homes.
- Fully funding LIHEAP (low income heating and energy assistance program).
While no budget would be perfect in everyone’s eyes, programs that low income seniors depend on have been funded. The next question, which affects many seniors, is how to pay for a nursing home when you run out of money.
Until now, Medicaid funds were being spent by court order. The new budget plan does not address how the Governor spends the money that has been appropriated. Attorneys across the state are reporting that the State’s processing of applications for the state’s Medicaid program to pay for nursing home costs have been slowed to a crawl. Applications filed in January 2017 are still awaiting “caseworker review” in July. Just because the state has appropriated the Medicaid money and will get federal dollars does not force the Governor to direct his agencies to spend the money. In fact, if applications are slowly processed or denied, the state doesn’t need to spend the money. Typically, those affected by such tactics are the seniors who face eviction from a nursing home for non-payment and the nursing home itself that has provided care for months on end with little compensation.
The problem is so bad, that a group of patients and nursing home facilities have filed suit in federal court in Chicago for violating their due process rights for not processing applications within 45 days as federal law requires. The suit is in its early stages and could be brought in a number of jurisdictions. The problem is, a senior needing Medicaid coverage does not necessarily have the access to funds to sue the State of Illinois. Why it has come to this is unconscionable.
Yes, we have a budget, many services are fully funded, but how the Governor and his agencies process spending has left a lot to be desired. Only time will tell if the pain felt for the last two years will lessen in the weeks ahead with a budget on the books. Depending on your situation, the smoke may not be blowing your way.
Tony DelGiorno is a shareholder in the firm of Rammelkamp Bradney, P.C. practicing in elder law issues including Medicaid, estate planning, nursing home matters, and guardianship. He can be reached at 217-522-6000. Visit www.rammelkamp.com for more information.