When Illinois lawmakers brag about having a “welcoming state,” they might want to talk to parents like Susie Redfern. In 2019, the Chicago Tribune profiled her and her son Nick as symptomatic of a dysfunctional system failing to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.
But rather than fixing that crisis, the Illinois Legislature created a new one, establishing health care programs for illegal immigrants that have exploded in costs, even as some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens lack access to needed care. It’s a particularly cruel example of the misplaced priorities of the radical left.
Surging Enrollment, Exploding Costs
In 2021, Illinois created its first health care program for alien residents over age 65; subsequent expansions have made individuals above age 42 eligible for benefits. The expanded eligibility brought with it an influx of enrollees — as of this spring, the number of beneficiaries was growing 10 percent per month.
As one might expect, exploding enrollment brought exploding costs. Spending estimates grew fivefold in the span of three months, from $220 million in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s February budget to $1.1 billion in May. Following the higher estimates, the Democratic-run legislature passed legislation allowing changes to the programs, which Pritzker used to cap enrollment and impose cost-sharing on participants.
The spiraling enrollment and expenses would not surprise those who recognize how generous welfare benefits can serve as a migration magnet. Testifying before Congress in 1993, Hillary Clinton said that benefits under proposed health care legislation should not apply to illegal immigrants: “We do not want to do anything to encourage more illegal immigration into this country. We know now that too many people come in for medical care, as it is.”
Vulnerable Citizens Have to Wait for Care
But the costs go far beyond the immediate expense of covering illegal migrants — they encompass the other state programs deprived of adequate funding, which includes people like Susie Redfern and her autistic son Nick.
At the time of the Tribune’s story in late 2019, Nick had waited more than three years for access to the personalized care he needs — and was likely to wait far longer. The Redferns’ story epitomizes an Illinois system where individuals with disabilities can wait more than a decade to receive services — a system so poor that the state remains subject to a consent decree from a federal lawsuit filed nearly two decades ago.
Susie Redfern said she could see the effects a lack of care had on her son, which contributed to a sense of helplessness. “We don’t have any support from anybody on trying to figure this out and getting him moving forward,” she said. “There just isn’t that much I can get going for him and it’s frustrating for me and I think it is for him too.”
Leftists‘ Skewed Priorities
Parents like Susie Redfern face a frustration compounded by the fact that increasing numbers of blue states have expanded taxpayer-funded health care to illegal aliens, even as individuals with disabilities wait for years to access developmental care. According to the latest national statistics, Illinois has more than 19,000 individuals with disabilities waiting for care, even as it spends $550 million this year on covering illegal migrants.
California, which will spend more than $2 billion to cover all illegal immigrants beginning next year, has nearly 8,000 disabled people on waiting lists. Colorado and Oregon likewise spend taxpayer funds on subsidized care for migrants, while making those with disabilities who need in-home care wait for services.
It shouldn’t get one branded a nativist to question why blue-state lawmakers continue to prioritize the demands of law-breaking migrants over the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens. Yet the left appears wholly uninterested in pondering such contradictions.
In response to the Illinois Legislature’s action capping enrollment, that body’s Latino Caucus called instead for the expansion of health benefits to all alien residents. Their statement claimed that “the often-disenfranchised communities we represent sent us to Springfield to be their voice; we will never turn our backs on them.”
Parents like Susie Redfern might beg to disagree.