WSIU InFocus: Social Services Budget

Jan 7, 2015

Illinois' budget crisis will likely affect operations in every corner of the state. In part three of WSIU's look at the possibilities, we focus on Social Services.

Centerstone provides mental health and substance abuse services primarily in Jackson, Williamson, and Franklin Counties. What was once Southern Illinois Regional Social Services and The H Group, this agency joined with a national partner last year to help save money - and now they're keeping a watchful eye on Springfield to see just what the coming year may bring.

"We're really concerned about this budget cycle, very concerned. If they come to us and say, 'It's going to be a 10% cut,' it'll be cuts to very needed services. There aren't any more for us, "fluff" out there."

John Markley is Director of Centerstone in Carterville. He's seen difficult budget times before, and knows what could be on the horizon. But Markley is ready to do battle for his agency's needs - with studies showing early intervention and treatment are much more cost effective than incarceration or other law enforcement options.

"The earlier age you can catch and address those issues - whether it be mental health issues or substance abuse issues - that prove, in fact, that it's a better quality of life, and a healthier individual going forward."

Markley says he's not yet heard any specific calls for Social Service cuts. But he says there are rumors of requirements of a 10% reserve - meaning the agencies will have to hold back 10% of their funding "just in case" the state needs to make an adjustment mid-year.

Like other leaders, Markley says he's optimistic that this year's budget negotiation will spark conversation on how to do things better. He says communication will be critical in this, so that cuts are made with consequences in mind - and points to talks of department consolidation as an example.

"That could be a good thing, but what do they mean by 'department consolidation'? Does that just mean that they want to cut people? Because there are a lot of different systems in there and there are a lot of contracts that are based on those systems."

Markley points out more than half of Centerstone's clients are on Medicaid, or get state grants. He says losing state funding directly affects the care they're able to provide, and that hurts people.

"And I hope that as Gov.-Elect Rauner is working towards these things, that with some insight and the people he has in the room, he'll be able to see the wisdom in retaining these services, and even investing in them, frankly."

And despite gains made with the Federal Affordable Care Act, there are still people who fall through the cracks when it comes to coverage for mental health and substance abuse services. Markley says those people are left with very few options.

"We can do an assessment for you, and tell you what you issues are, and for $92 an hour, we can give you therapy. So how much would you like to sign up for today? You know, for people with no resources, it's 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"

That choice to forego treatment means people who may be a danger to themselves or others remain without treatment. Markley says advocacy for social service agencies is a multi-pronged approach. Without services for substance abuse and mental health, law enforcement agencies and emergency rooms are burdened with people who cannot function in society for a variety of reasons.

Programs like Centerstone's new Crisis Center - which provides care for people who might otherwise end up in the ER or jail - have enjoyed state support in the past. Markley says he remains hopeful that will continue, because right now the Center loses money in its operation.

"What's difficult is when do you make a decision at some point to say, 'This is great, this is a wonderful program, it's so innovative and I'd like to know more about it.' And by the way, we're closing it next month because it's not supported."

Markley says they've had support in the past from local lawmakers, and he remains hopeful that Republicans and Democrats will put aside their politics and work for the benefit of the people.