Milton Township voters to decide funding request for disability, mental health services

 
 
Updated 4/2/2021 7:57 AM

Miles Evans will turn 22 in September, but it's the day before his birthday that marks a major turning point in his life.

On that day, Evans, who has Down syndrome, will age out of school-based services in Glenbard District 87. And then he could be waiting years to access state-funded housing, job coaching and all the other supports he needs to live a full, independent, adult life.

 

His family registered him in the Prioritization of Urgency of Need for Services database, or PUNS. But in Illinois, nearly 18,000 people with developmental disabilities are on the waiting list to receive services.

"He won't get his PUNS funding until he's in his mid-20s," Evans' mom, Julie, said. "Well, there's a need to keep learning and keep growing with your moving toward independence."

The bureaucratic backlog is part of the impetus behind a referendum push in Milton Township to create a community mental health board dedicated to improving access to disability services.

A binding question on Tuesday's ballot asks voters to approve a property tax increase to establish what's known as a 708 board, the second of its kind in DuPage County. The board would distribute the funding in the form of grants to local providers of disability, mental health and addiction services.

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"We have a chance to say as a community that this is a priority," said Erica Nelson, a referendum committee organizer.

The tax question

The referendum question was placed on the ballot after a petition drive organized by a group of residents collected more than 1,700 signatures.

If voters approve the tax increase, township trustees would get the final say on the amount that residents would pay each year. But the request caps the tax levy for the mental health board at 0.15% of the assessed value of taxable property.

The board would consist of members appointed by the township supervisor. The panel could include parents, representatives of schools or social service agencies. Experts would help coordinate the distribution of grants to avoid duplicating services, referendum supporters say.

"You're looking for opportunities within your community to fund those gaps," Nelson said.

Glendale Heights police, for instance, have received grants from the Bloomingdale Township mental health board -- the county's first -- to employ a clinical social worker.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Areas of need

In the push to raise money for services, disability advocates have called attention to uneven access to early diagnosis and intervention therapies, especially for young children from low-income families.

Medicaid is reimbursing pediatric therapy at a lower rate than in 2007, even as costs to provide those services continue to rise, said Theresa Forthofer, president and CEO of Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley.

"It covers approximately 35% of our direct service," she said. "We just couldn't keep our doors open if we offered services to everyone who needed it."

Using census and other federal data, advocates estimate roughly 5,340 children in Milton Township have a developmental delay or disability, including 2,296 who live in poverty.

Last year, Easter Seals, one of the largest providers, served 190 children from the township. So what happens to the thousands of other children?

"There are certainly other providers, but there's still a large portion that are simply undiagnosed and not receiving services until they end up in the school system," Forthofer said.

As a result, providing special education services for those students puts a financial drain on schools, she said.

"But we know that by addressing developmental delays early in a child's life and intervening and being able to provide those therapeutic services while their brain is developing, we can actually save and reduce the expensive and intensive school-based approach," Forthofer said.

Julie Evans, the Glen Ellyn mom, sees opportunities for funding to support adults with disabilities waiting on the PUNS list. In Milton Township, there are more than 300 people actively waiting to obtain services, according to the state.

Adult day services is another area of need, Evans said, and give people with disabilities a chance to develop skills while their caregivers, already coping with isolation before the pandemic, can find some respite.

"I think mental health services are going to touch this community greatly," Evans said.