As Late Payments Pile Up, Policy - Not Politics - Should Govern

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

3436460838_7c306698aa_m[1]The General Assembly returns to Springfield this week for the fall legislative session. Governor Quinn laid out his top three priorities for this session: 1) sustaining his veto of a 'smart grid' energy system, 2) ending legislative scholarships, and 3) passing a revised gambling bill.  Noticeably absent is paying down the backlog of overdue bills.  
Illinois needs to make paying its bills a top priority. New analysis from the Illinois Partners for Human Services shows how human service providers continue to wait for more than $458 million owed to them by the state, forcing many to cut back on services and some to shut their doors altogether.  And too often, the decision of what organization gets paid first is a matter of politics.  Documents obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act detail how nonprofits backed by lawmakers are bumped to the top of the list.  The system lacks transparency and should be replaced by a policy of “first in first out.” 

 As overdue bills pile up, nonprofits across Illinois are struggling to make payroll, pay rent, and accommodate increasing demands for service.  For too long, nonprofits have had to rely on last minute pleas to lawmakers to expedite overdue payments.  Illinois should institute and abide by a “first in, first out” policy of paying bills based on when they come in – not who is asking for a favor.  The state should publish a list of delayed payments to service providers by agency, how much each is owed, and how long the bills are overdue. This would put an end to the clout-ridden process that pits nonprofits against one another in pursuit of dollars they are legally owed.

Illinois depends on the partnership of nonprofit organizations to provide the services government can’t.  By providing vital services, nonprofits ease the burden of government and help fulfull the social compact; but they cannot be expected to until the state comes up with a plan to eliminate the backlog of long-overdue bills and introduces a rational and fair payment process.