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Federal judge orders Illinois to find way to pay for disability services program

A federal judge has ordered the state to figure out how to pay more toward a program that helps people with developmental disabilities live and participate in their communities.

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman found Friday that the state has failed to adequately fund a program that helps people with developmental disabilities receive services in their homes and transition from institutions to community-based living arrangements.

She found the state to be in violation of a 2011 consent decree that required it to help such individuals live as independently as possible.

Coleman found that wages for workers who help people in the program have stagnated, "causing a staffing crisis that is inhibiting care and negatively impacting the individuals protected by the Consent decree."

She acknowledged, however, that the state's budget woes — a $14 billion backlog in bills after two years without a budget — make substantial funding increases difficult. The state has already agreed to spend an additional $53.4 million for the services as part of its new budget. Coleman ordered the state to come up with a plan to bring the state into "substantial compliance" with the earlier agreement.

Meghan Powers, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said in a statement Monday that the state is committed to providing quality services to people with developmental disabilities.

"The State will continue to meet all its legal obligations and will review the court's rulings to determine appropriate next steps," she said in the statement.

Barry Taylor, vice president for civil rights at Equip for Equality, which represented those who use the services, said he was pleased with the order.

He said about 6,000 people have already used the services and more than 15,000 are still waiting to move from institutions to community-based settings.

"From a civil rights standpoint, people with disabilities should be in the most integrated setting and be productive members of our society, and they really can't unless the state meets its obligations under the consent decree," Taylor said.

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @lschencker

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