State halts anti-smoking funds
In yet another example of Illinoisâ€™ financial troubles, state government has temporarily suspended payments to county health departments and other organizations that offer anti-tobacco programs encouraging people to quit - or never start - smoking.
At present, the stateâ€™s cash flow is insufficient to fund a $12 million budget appropriation for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, according to an Aug. 29 letter from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Illinois, one of the states sharing in the national settlement of lawsuits against tobacco companies, expects to receive about $9.1 billion over a 25-year period - or more than $300 million a year. The next payment wonâ€™t arrive until December or January, and another payment should follow in April.
Organizations that have grants through the â€œTobacco-Free Communities Programâ€ may continue to offer programs and submit reimbursement requests to the state, but they wonâ€™t get paid until the cash-flow picture improves, the letter said.
Julie Dutton, a spokeswoman for the state Bureau of the Budget, said Wednesday that the organizations eventually will be reimbursed.
She said that in the past, when state finances were healthier, â€œwe in essence fronted the moneyâ€ to organizations for their anti-tobacco initiatives. That money came from the stateâ€™s general funds, and it was replenished when the tobacco settlement payments arrived, Dutton said.
â€œThis year, because of the unfortunate fiscal situation that the state is facing, we are not going to be able to proceed with handling it that way,â€ she said. â€œThere absolutely is every intention that they will be receiving their monies this fiscal year.â€
The affected county health departments and other organizations are dealing with the news in different ways.
Some are paring back on services.
For instance, the American Lung Association of Illinois already has cut four employees from the staff of its â€œTobacco Quitline,â€ which assists callers who want to kick the tobacco habit, said Kathy Drea, the associationâ€™s director of public policy. One of those four employees was re-assigned to a different job, she said.
The Lung Association is a member of the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco. In a news release Wednesday, the coalition described itself as â€œdismayed and outragedâ€ by the recent developments.
However, Springfield Health Department Director Ray Cooke said his agency doesnâ€™t plan to make any cuts at this point, because it expects the state money to arrive later in the fiscal year.
â€œWeâ€™re going to keep on track,â€ he said of the departmentâ€™s prevention and cessation programs for teens and adults.
Officials with the Peoria City/County Health Department and the Knox County Health Department said theyâ€™ll be trimming programs, but they havenâ€™t identified any specifics yet.
The issue is of particular interest in Knox County. There, lung cancer has been identified as a â€œpriority health issue,â€ in part because that county exceeds state and national averages in its premature death rate due to lung cancer, said county health department administrator Greg Chance.
Chance said he is â€œpessimisticâ€ that the county health departments will see the state money later this fiscal year because there are too many other demands on Illinoisâ€™ share of the tobacco settlement dollars.
â€œIt appears weâ€™re not one of the priority programs to be funded, based on what Iâ€™m seeing occur,â€ he said.
Still, Knox County remains committed to preventing tobacco-related illness, Chance said.
â€œWhat this means, though, is weâ€™re going to have to come up with other sources of funding,â€ he said, adding that means local taxpayer dollars.