The Illinois Appellate Court has dismissed human
services providers’ case seeking to be paid for
work performed under legal and binding
contracts, directing the Pay Now Illinois
plaintiffs – and all unpaid Illinois vendors –
to the Illinois Court of Claims.
We have been to the Court of Claims. We
know. This is not a solution.
Lapsed Appropriation vs. No
It’s important to understand how the Court of
Claims operates. According to its website, the
Court has consistently interpreted its
responsibilities under the law as hearing claims
that result from a “lapsed appropriation". A
lapsed appropriation is an appropriation that
But if an appropriation never occurred, can it
This may seem like a philosophical conundrum
along the lines of the sound of one hand
clapping. Except what we are talking about here
is real world urgency. It is not clear on what
basis the Illinois Court of Claims would even
agree to hear our cases because doing so would
require them to dramatically re-interpret the
law from what they have done in the past.
Time & Money Raise the Stakes for
Both the length of time the Court of Claims
process takes, and the magnitude of the unpaid
bills prevent the Court of Claims from being a
practical or meaningful remedy for providers.
In ordinary times, the Illinois Court of Claims
is notoriously slow; providers have routinely
waited years for any kind of hearing. For
example, my own organization has had a claim
pending in the Court of Claims since September
2015. We have heard nothing for nearly two
years. Because this claim is for less than
$10,000, we can operate without the missing
funds while waiting for our award.
But these are not ordinary times.
Approximately 8,500 cases are filed with the
Court of Claims against the State of Illinois
annually, ranging from personal injury to awards
to victims of violent crime. The Court has seven
judges and 16 part-time commissioners who
adjudicate these cases. Imagine the backlog that
would occur if all providers were to file with
the Court of Claims for each unpaid contract AND
the Court of Claims agreed to hear each case.
The Court would be deluged, and the backlog
would be incomprehensible. It is one thing to
wait two years for $10,000 to resolve a clerical
error; it is another thing entirely when a
provider is waiting for payment of a year or
more’s worth of work.
A Circular Process: Ending Where We
Even when a Court of Claims case is successfully
adjudicated, that’s not the end to the process.
Providers must wait for the General Assembly to
pass new legislation – appropriating funds – to
pay the claims awarded by the Court. Payment
cannot be processed until the bill is signed
into law by the governor.
And that’s why it’s absurd.
The whole reason we are in this disaster now is
because the General Assembly and the Governor
cannot agree on a budget, which is another word
for an appropriations bill. We would not be in
this situation if they would fulfill their
Constitutional duty and pass a budget that could
be signed into law. It is ridiculous and
unconscionable that providers would have to
trudge through an unclear and overburdened
Illinois Court of Claims process simply to end
up back where we started – waiting for our
elected officials to do their jobs.