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Illinois General Assembly Approves Budget Increases for Early Intervention Program

In May, Illinois legislators approved the state’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget, including an almost 34.5 percent budget increase from the FY23 budget for the Illinois Early Intervention (EI) Program. This increase is part of a nearly 300 million dollar new state budget for early childhood care and education which aligns with Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois plan. Forty (40) million dollars of the new state budget has been allocated for the EI program.

https://www.ilgateways.com/smart-startThe Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) plans to use half of this budget to increase EI provider compensation by 10 percent. Most Illinois EI providers work as fee-for-service independent contractors. This means they do not receive health insurance benefits, are not reimbursed for travel costs, and are paid only for direct service time, not including missed or cancelled appointments. While Illinois providers make an average of 60 – 77 dollars an hour, they take home an average annual pay of 32,000 – 50,000 dollars after paying taxes and expenses. Poor compensation and no access to benefits are resulting in high rates of provider loss from the EI program, negatively impacting the 26,500 children and families who are receiving or waiting to receive EI services.

A group of Illinois providers, self-named the EI Grassroots Alliance, recognized these challenges and began the advocacy needed to increase provider rates. The group led efforts to create and send a petition that garnered nearly 3,000 signatures to Governor Pritzker, collect provider perspectives through a survey, and meet with the IDHS and legislators. Although the 10 percent rate increase that will come from the approved FY24 budget increase is viewed as a vital stepping stone,  Start Early Illinois Policy Team found that EI provider reimbursement rates should be increased by at least 30 percent just to account for inflation.

While half of FY24 increases for EI will go to increasing payment rates, the remaining funds will be used to address high caseload numbers and Family Service Coordinator shortages. Although providers have only received three nominal reimbursement rate increases in nearly two decades, recently, there have been significant wins for children and families needing EI services. Current law makes infants and toddlers involved in the child welfare system automatically eligible for EI, extends services for children who turn 3 during the summer while schools are not in session, and codifies a 30-day timeline for services to begin after caregivers have given consent to services.

Diana Lucía Abarca, M.A., CF-SLP, is a fellow with the Start with Equity program at the Children’s Equity Project. 


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