John Jansa, program director for Forest Park’s Progress Center for Independent Living, called Gov. Pat Quinn’s planned 2012 funding cuts for Illinois centers for independent living “a slap in the face.”

The governor has proposed a 36 percent cut in general revenue funds for these centers as well as the complete elimination of the Community Reintegration Program, which assists disabled individuals who wish to move from nursing homes to residencies of their choice.

The governor’s budget statement calls for the Department of Human Services to protect “our children, veterans, poor, disabled, elderly and sick.” Yet, with the planned cuts, “the most affected are the most vulnerable people – and in this case it’s people with disabilities,” said Horacio Esparza, the center’s executive director, at a Mar. 8 press conference.

If the present budget is approved, the action will eliminate 10 percent of the Progress Center’s total budget, effectively slashing at least three full-time staff positions. General revenue funds also help to pay for such things as staff health insurance so the center “is going to have to weigh its options on how to make up for these cuts,” Jansa said.

Staffed in large part by persons with disabilities, the Progress Center serves all of suburban Cook County and offers a variety of services: an employment advocate to help the disabled who wish to return to work, training for personal assistants and services for the deaf. In addition, the state contracts with the center to locate individuals in nursing homes who would like to move out and assess them for community reintegration.

The Community Reintegration Program has saved the state $176 million since 1998, according to Ann Ford, executive director of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living. “It’s unconscionable that the governor would talk about cutting costs and then eliminate a program that helps the state save that much money,” she said.

Currently, a nursing-home resident costs the state between $4,000 to $5,000 a month, depending on the level of care they require, Ford said –  a resident in a home-services program costs about $2,000 monthly.

According to Larry Biondi, the Center’s advisory coordinator, the disabled community is also concerned that along with the proposed budget cuts, the state may soon require that individuals receiving home assistance qualify for Medicaid. If they earn above the Medicaid limit, they would have to pay for home assistance out of pocket, which many cannot afford, Biondi said.

“Community Reintegration saved my life,” said Patricia Hardy, a person with a disability who left nursing homes through the help of the reintegration program. “When you’re in a nursing home, your right to live as a human with life, dignity and respect is all taken away.”