(Springfield, IL) – March 4, 2011. It’s going to be a tough year for the Illinois Department of Human Services if it can’t find places to trim its budget, consolidate and address the rationale behind recent pay raises.
Lawmakers on Thursday grilled DHS Secretary Michelle Saddler during a review of DHS programs by the House Human Services Appropriations Committee.
“In the Department of Human Services … this has been a time of real economic downturn,” Saddler said. “While we look for savings throughout the year, and have made cuts throughout the year, there’s been increase in demand for services, as you might expect during an economic downturn.
State Rep. Lisa Dugan (D-Kankakee) said DHS should study the programs it offers and find ways to consolidate.
“And I just want to make sure that as we look at this list, as you guys look at the way the money is spent — whether it may be in your agency or, again, in conjunction with the others — that we see whether or not we’re spending money for the same thing in all different areas,” Dugan said. “Why can’t we just pull it together?”
State Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria) questioned the $336 million allocated for pay raises.
“So what do you mean ‘lack of resources?’ There’s a lack of will and a lack of setting, in my view, an appropriate … priority for spending this money,” Leitch said.
According to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget website, DHS received a total lump sum budget of about $6.07 billion for fiscal year 2011.
Saddler said the agency didn’t make cuts more quickly in its 2011 budget because they “hoped for additional revenue.” Any cuts, she said, directly impact people’s lives. She also said that DHS would rather have a line-by-line budget from the General Assembly.
“The lump sum budget, as the year progresses you find out where your deficits are and where perhaps, if any, where your surpluses are,” she said. “There were no surpluses anywhere.”
According to Saddler, DHS provides services to 2.5 million people every day through its programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides temporary financial assistance for pregnant women and families with dependent children; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps; and WIC, which is a food assistance program for women, infants and children.
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget website reports that DHS’s general funds have decreased by 10.6 percent from fiscal year 2011 to the upcoming fiscal year 2012.
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) chair of the committee, asked why it is difficult for Illinoisans to apply for benefits through DHS.
“Can you explain to the members of the committee in the year 2011, why the flexibility of applying for TANF and having your case being handled – we are in the electronic age, are we not?” Feigenholtz said.
Jennifer Hrycyna, associate director of DHS’s Human Capital Development Division, said the agency doesn’t have the resources to electronically keep and transfer applications among various DHS offices.
Saddler said that IT investments are usually the first thing cut when budgets are tight.
“One of the struggles that DHS has historically had is with the need for technology investment, and yet we have this increasing demand and budget reductions … year to year,” Saddler said. “And the IT investment historically has been cut from the DHS budget. It’s one of the things that has been easiest to eliminate without support long term from DHS, the governor’s office and the General Assembly.”
Mary J. Cristobal, Illinois Statehouse News