Federal judge orders Illinois to develop a plan to provide critical resources for people with developmental disabilities

CHICAGO (August 12, 2017) –  The State of Illinois is failing to provide people with developmental disabilities appropriate resources in order to live independently.  That finding, issued by Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman on Friday, specifically finds the State to be out of compliance with the 2011 Consent Decree in Ligas v. Norwood.   Among the resources being provided by the State is pay for community workers for people with disabilities.  Lack of adequate pay for these workers has resulted in many individuals losing or being unable to secure care and support in their home.  Judge Coleman ordered development of a long-term plan to ensure that people with developmental disabilities have the services necessary to live meaningful lives in the community.

The State has had fair warning that this problem needed to be addressed.  An Independent Monitor appointed by the court in the Ligas case found the State out of compliance with the Consent Decree for the past two years because the funding for services for people with disabilities has largely remained stagnant for the last decade.  Over this same period, costs have significantly increased.  A lack of meaningful response by the State led to lawyers for Ligas class members and beneficiaries to ask the court to force the State to act. 

“We are pleased that Judge Coleman found that the State’s insufficient funding of services for people with developmental disabilities to be integrated into the community is a violation of the Consent Decree,” said Barry C. Taylor, Vice President for Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation at Equip for Equality and lead counsel in the Ligas case. “The State must now develop a plan that will make the promise of fully integrated lives under the Consent Decree a reality for our clients.”

The Judge’s order relies on an economist’s report. But there also were compelling stories from family members of people with developmental disabilities (as well as service providers) making clear the real human suffering and impact resulting from the insufficient resources provided by the State.

Community reimbursement rates have been frozen for nearly a decade, despite escalations in costs.  Earlier this year, the Illinois General Assembly tried to address this critical issue by passing legislation that would have provided disability service professionals with a living wage, but Governor Rauner vetoed the bill.  Although the recently-adopted State budget included a small wage increase, Judge Coleman found that was insufficient to meet the requirements of the Consent Decree.

The low rates created crisis conditions in the staffing of these services. With insufficient staff, services to people with developmental disabilities are cut short. People with disabilities, who are supposed to be integrated into the community, are instead finding themselves increasingly isolated and segregated. Community providers have been forced to decrease staff ratios, frequently to only one staff for 4-8 residents. This means that staff cannot regularly take residents out of the house and they cannot work on building skills and independence. They are left with simply trying to maintain safety, instead of promoting full integrated lives in the community.

“The State of Illinois has ignored the impact that its actions have had on the ability of our clients to integrate into the community,” said Benjamin Wolf, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois.  “Without the court’s intercession, we feared that many people with disabilities would still be isolated – in a small facility rather than a larger one.”

In 2011, a federal judge approved a Consent Decree in the Ligas case to provide people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live in settings designed to promote independence in daily living, economic self-sufficiency, and to interact with non-disabled people to the fullest extent possible. While thousands of people have moved into the community as a result of the case, the State has failed to meet the requirements for providing the services they require in the community. Without these services, full community integration cannot be achieved. Individuals are left segregated in their new environment, often unable to leave home for outside activities, and at risk of returning to a more restrictive, and more costly to the State, institutions. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the State to support people with disabilities to live in the most integrated setting possible.  Judge Coleman found that Illinois is not meeting that requirement.

Mr. Taylor and Mr Wolf are joined by Equip for Equality attorneys Laura Miller and Amanda Antholt, ACLU of Illinois attorney Gail Waller, as well as by Scott Mendel at K&L Gates and William Choslovsky at Fox Rothchild, who represent a group of intervenors in the matter. 

Judge Coleman’s Order can be found at: http://www.equipforequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Ligas-Order-Granting-Motion-to-Enforce.pdf

Questions for Plaintiffs’ Counsel may be directed to Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality at 773-562-9567 or barryt@equipforequality.org

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