Cook County Sheriff Dart blasts Rauner over mental health cuts

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart and the National Alliance on Mental Illness denounced Gov. Bruce Rauner this weekend, following the announcement that Lutheran Social Services of Illinois would lay off 750 employees and shut down 30 social services programs because of the state's budget impasse.

"Lutheran provides essential services to the very people government is supposed to care for in times of distress," Dart said in a statement released Saturday. "For the governor to allow these programs to wither away is simply deplorable. Without Lutheran's diversion programs, my Cook County Jail population will rise, costing taxpayers significantly more in both the short-term and long-term."

The governor's press office responded Sunday by saying Rauner also is frustrated by the lack of movement in Springfield on the state's nearly seven-month budget stalemate.

"Tom Dart knows very well that groups like Lutheran Social Services could be fully funded tomorrow if he and Mike Madigan placed a higher priority on social services than defending the out-of-control, job-killing power of special interests," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in an email. "While Governor Rauner stands ready to pass job-creating legislation and fund social services in a balanced budget, Tom Dart and Mike Madigan want special interests to keep their power at the expense of social services."

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois announced the program closures and staff cuts on Thursday, attributing them to the failure of the state to provide necessary funds. The state currently owes LSSI, the largest statewide provider of social services, $6 million. LSSI reports that 4,700 people will lose access to care as a result of the cuts.

Dart's joint statement with NAMI predicts devastating effects on Cook County's most vulnerable communities, particularly those living with mental illness and struggling with addiction. Several of the slashed programs focus specifically on helping nonviolent inmates secure housing and develop marketable employment skills upon leaving the criminal justice system, according to the statement.

Following historic cuts to statewide mental health services in recent years, Dart said, the county jail has emerged as the largest mental health provider in the United States, with typically 25 to 35 percent of its population suffering from mental illness.

"This is a very sad day in our communities, our neighborhoods, our county, our state," said Alexa James, executive director of NAMI Chicago. "Policymakers have decided that our veterans, our seniors, individuals impacted by mental illness and substance abuse disorders are not valued. Where will they seek treatment now?

"We are running out of creative solutions and feel devastated for Lutheran Social Services and the communities they have lifted up for so many years," she added.

  Gov. Bruce Rauner. Bob Chwedyk/
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