© 2024 NPR Illinois
The Capital's Community & News Service
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Social Service Agencies Demand Payment In Court — 'This Is Not Charity'

St. Clair County Building
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
The St. Clair County Building, where a judge is weighing whether human service providers should be paid for services they've performed, even though Illinois doesn't have a budget.

BELLEVILLE — Dozens of Illinois’ social service providers were back in court Wednesday. Many have gone nearly a year without funding during the budget stalemate. They’re asking a St. Clair County judge to force Illinois to pay.

The groups in the lawsuit deal with the hardest of Illinois’ hard luck cases.

But coalition leader Andrea Durbin says "this is not charity." She says it’s business — they’ve got contracts, and Illinois isn’t holding up its end of the deal.

“This is the work of the state of Illinois," Durbin says. "The state has decided to outsource the direct service provision — serving the sexual assault victims, housing the homeless — to us."

Normally state contractors cannot sue for payment — they instead have to go through the Court of Claims. But the providers argue they have no standing there, as the Court of Claims only makes awards in cases where the legislature has appropriated money, which has only happened sporadically during the budget impasse.

They also say the state forfeited its usual claim to immunity from lawsuits. They argue Gov. Bruce Rauner and his agency directors exceeded their legal authority by continuing to sign contacts with the groups even as he’s vetoed the General Assembly’s attempts to appropriate money.

Durbin says Illinois government is taking advantage of the dedication of human service providers.

“What they’re doing is they’re banking on — in the most cynical way — they’re banking on the fact that we give a damn, and we won’t turn our backs on these clients, we won’t shove them out into the streets, that we won’t lay off our employees until it’s impossible for us to do anything else,” Durbin says.

She says the failure to pass a budget has already led to irreparable harm — programs closing, staff laid off, and credit lines exhausted.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office is opposing the move. Assistant Attorney General Joshua Ratz argued in court that if there is any irreparable harm in this case, the harm is to separation of powers in state government, because courts would be exercising the appropriation power of the legislature.

“The people are the answer to this budget stalemate," Ratz said.

The case is before St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien — the same judge whose order has kept state employees getting paid during the budget stalemate.

LeChien did not issue a ruling. He says he wants to hear how the Appellate Court decides a similar case.

That decision is expected this morning.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.