Biss: DHS hiring as service providers languish

Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) today questioned why a state agency is expanding its payroll while failing to pay hundreds of struggling non-profit agencies that are contracted to provide important services on the state’s behalf.

Officials from the Illinois Department of Human Services revealed during an appropriations hearing that the agency hired about 800 new employees between July and December 2015.

Meanwhile, DHS has not been paying the agencies it contracted with throughout Illinois to provide vital human services for impoverished and underserved people on behalf of the state. That includes such services as substance abuse and mental health counseling, rape crisis centers, affordable housing assistance, programs for at-risk youth and more. Service providers in communities all over Illinois have closed their doors or cut back dramatically on programs, hours and employees to make ends meet while the state’s budget stalemate drags on and they go unpaid.

“The functions of the Department of Human Services are important, but they’re not more important than the functions of the non-profit agencies that were hired to provide services on behalf of the state,” Biss said. “Hundreds of agencies are providing services and are owed more than $160 million, but zero of them are being paid.”

In addition, human service providers in Biss’ district and statewide have indicated privately they feel bullied by the state into continuing to provide services, even as they struggle to pay their bills and keep their doors open, Biss said. They’ve been reluctant to complain to DHS officials, however, for fear of retribution, he added.

“While I understand that DHS officials want to prepare for possible retirements within the agency, expanding their payroll while local providers are left to struggle and go unpaid sends a terrible message about priorities,” Biss said.

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