Advocates fight cuts for mental health in Illinois

Advocates for the mentally ill hope to reverse budget cuts that rank Ill. among nation's worst

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Advocates for the mentally ill are urging Illinois lawmakers to reverse budget cuts that threaten three mental centers and place the state among the worst in the nation when it comes to slashing mental health funds.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness said Monday that Illinois cut mental health programs by $62 million in the latest budget, a drop of 13.4 percent. No other state hit a double-digit percentage.

The alliance also said Illinois has cut $187 million since 2009, a reduction of nearly one-third. Only two states have cut a larger dollar amount and only three have cut a bigger percentage, the group said. It would not provide details on the other states, saying the information will be released in a national report Thursday.

"What is tragic is that Illinois is not simply sharing pain of other states. We are leading it," said Lora Thomas, executive director for NAMI of Illinois. "The legislature should consider that status unacceptable."

Groups such as hers want lawmakers to restore $30 million that they say was accidentally cut from mental services and allocated to other parts of the budget. They also want to block Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close mental institutions in Tinley Park, Rockford and Chester, a move he says is necessary because of budget cuts by the General Assembly.

The Democratic governor says lawmakers shouldn't give him less money to run government and then block the steps needed to live within that budget.

A legislative commission is studying Quinn's plan to close the institutions. It has already voted against closing two of them, and a vote on the third should come this week. But the votes are only advisory. It would take new money, or changes in the way existing money will be spent, to keep Quinn from going forward.

NAMI and similar groups support the long-term goal of getting patients out of state institutions when possible. But they say the Quinn administration is simply closing institutions without arranging to care for the former patients after they're released. Putting people on the street while cutting community services is a dangerous move, they say.

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