Beyond education: Here are three other areas funded in Gov. JB Pritzker's budget proposal

Patrick Keck
State Journal-Register

In the days following his budget address, Gov. JB Pritzker has barnstormed the state touting his proposal for the next fiscal year.

The governor's remarks, including in Springfield on Thursday, centered around his plan to expand preschool access throughout Illinois.

The Smart Start Illinois plan most notably looks to add 5,000 slots this year with the goal of providing access to preschool education for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old by 2027. Pritzker's $250 million request for the multi-year plan also looks into expanding childcare facilities and providing wage increases for its staff.

Recent:Springfield District 186, local lawmakers hopeful Pritzker's pre-K plan will expand access

Fellow Democrats, who hold super-majorities in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, have signaled support. The state legislature reconvenes Tuesday after President's Day and will craft the state budget over the remainder of the spring session.

Yet, Smart Start is only a portion of the $49.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2024. Here are three other areas funded in Pritzker's proposal.

Money for DCFS hiring

In the lead-up of the 2022 election, the Department of Children and Family Services received significant scrutiny from Republicans for deaths that occurred under their care.

Failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey said the governor needed to fire DCFS Director Marc Smith, who retained his position in Pritzker's second term. Smith has been held in contempt of court 12 times for failing to place children in proper care within the proper timeframe.

Overall, the budget proposal for DCFS jumped to more than $2 billion — a 65% increase in the department's annual fund since fiscal year 2019.

Much of the funding will go towards hiring nearly 200 new department workers and a $41 million increase for the main rollout of the Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System. CCWIS replaces a previous case management system for "efficiency and faster case processing" according to the governor's Office of Management and Budget.

The proposal also includes $10 million to support the "acquisition and training" for the use of pepper spray by DCFS frontline workers. This comes after the legislature passed Senate Bill 1486, a bill introduced by Springfield Republicans state Sen. Steve McClure and former state Rep. Sandy Hamilton, in the prior General Assembly.

RelatedIllinois lawmakers push to let DCFS workers carry pepper spray

The bill came following the death of DCFS investigator Deidre Silas, of Springfield, who died while checking the welfare of six children at a home in Thayer. Benjamin Reed, 32, was charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.

Funding for broadband

Local business and community leaders recently gathered in Springfield to discuss the need to expand broadband access in the city and Sangamon County.

Related:Here's why thousands lacking access to broadband in central Illinois is important

The consensus among speakers at the forum was broadband has become essential for students and parents, especially since COVID-19. Federal and state funding has increased in recent years, yet thousands in the county still lack access.

The governor's proposal will continue the state's investment with $25 million dedicated to the Department Of Innovation and Technology. The state's IT agency would direct those funds to the Illinois Century Network with the intent of providing broadband and internet access to all public K-12 schools.

Medicaid funding increase

Enhanced Medicaid benefits, where the federal government increased funds it gave to state programs during COVID-19, are scheduled to begin trending down in March.

According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the federal match dedicated to the state is currently 6.2 percentage points and will be phased out gradually by the end of the year.

IDHFS administers the state's Medicaid program which would be funded at $37.2 billion this year by Pritzker's proposal, an increase of $709 million from last year's budget, mostly due to the reduction of the extended federal Medicaid match.

The proposal takes notice of the change in federal policy by dedicating $8 million to create the Ready to Renew Campaign - which will either keep Illinoisans on Medicaid or help them find other forms of health insurance.

Patrick Keck
State Journal-Register
Febr. 20, 2023