Public Engagement Newsletter - December 31, 2013

Helping Families. Supporting Communities. Empowering Individuals.


Public Engagement Newsletter

Volume 3, Issue 4, December 31, 2013
[Covering October/November/December]

December, 2013 PEN (pdf)

Dear Friends -

Did you know that there's a new way to access affordable health insurance?

Individuals, families and small businesses in Illinois can now sign up for quality health coverage through Get Covered Illinois by visiting Through the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, you can make side-by-side comparisons of health coverage options and find the plan that works best for you, your family and your budget.

All of the plans you'll find through Get Covered Illinois cover important things like doctor visits, hospital stays, prescriptions and more. And you won't be denied coverage if you are sick or already have a condition like asthma, diabetes or even cancer.Get Covered Illinois

You may even be able to get help paying for your plan. For example, if you are an individual who earns less than $45,960 a year, or a member of a family of four that makes less than $94,200 a year, you may be able to get a tax credit to help pay for your health insurance coverage. You may even qualify for a free or low-cost plan.

Sometimes finding the right health plan can be confusing. The good news is that you don't have to figure it out alone. There are specially trained counselors, called Navigators, who are available to help you learn about your choices and enroll for free - online, by phone or in-person. To enroll online or find a Navigator near you, visit

It's an exciting new state of health care in Illinois. Having health insurance means being there for your family when they need you. With a plan from Get Covered Illinois, you'll know you can get the care you need, when you need it, including free preventive care to help you stay healthy. No one plans to get sick or injured, but if the unexpected happens, you'll now be able to see a doctor or go to the hospital without racking up huge medical bills.

More than 60,000 Illinoisans have already signed up, so why wait? Enrollment is open through March 31, 2014. Take the first step to getting covered. To enroll online or find a Navigator near you, visit or call the toll-free Help Desk at (866) 311-1119, open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

However, Get Covered Illinois is just one of the many public engagement efforts taking place at the Illinois Department of Human Services. Just take a look inside this issue and you'll hear about three important confirmations at the Agency; learn how the state provided quick relief for victims impacted by the November storms, and find out where low-income residents and their families can obtain free tax help and claim their earned income tax credits.

Application for Benefits Eligibility (ABE) launches successfully

Application for Benefits Eligibility ABEThe Application for Benefits Eligibility (ABE) is Illinois' new online portal to apply for medical benefits, SNAP, and TANF. The portal is more intuitive, provides a portal for community partners who assist customers so they can track and manage their cases, and, for the first time, allows customers to upload supporting documentation and submit a complete application online. ABE has already accepted more than 94,000 applications for Medical, SNAP and cash benefits since its launch on October 1, 2013.

Illinois has received praise for ABE's availability and ease of use. Customers create their own user names and passwords. They can begin an application, save their work and return to complete the application at any time. For the first time, customers can include electronic documentation to support their application, including proof of income, residency and citizenship. Customers certify their application using an electronic signature.  Using ABE is similar to completing any web-based questionnaire - like online tax preparation.

ABE is supporting the Get Covered Illinois (GCI) campaign, which encourages Illinoisans of every age, income level and health status to get health coverage. Organizations and agencies participating in the GCI campaign as health coverage Navigators can assist customers in applying for Medicaid, as well as other benefits, through ABE.

ABE also enables health service providers to file Medicaid Presumptive Eligibility (MPE) applications online. MPE is a program administered by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) that allows pregnant women to immediately begin receiving pre-natal care through Medicaid by being directly enrolled by their health service provider. One thousand MPE enrollments have been received through ABE since October.

Customers who have questions or need help using ABE can call the new ABE Customer Call Center for assistance. The call center can be reached by calling the IDHS Help Line at 1 (800) 843-6154.

ABE is part of the larger Integrated Eligibility System project. Over the next 18 months, ABE will continue to be enhanced with more benefits account management features, the ability to renew benefits and view benefit status online.

New system provides modern case management tools

Illinois IES LogoOctober marked an important milestone for the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Division of Family and Community Services. The first phase of the Integrated Eligibility System (IES) "went live" on October 1 for benefits application intake and eligibility determination to coincide with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

This ambitious effort began 11 months ago and included weeks of daily system design sessions, verification of system story boards; months of intensive user acceptance testing involving approximately 100 state staff from the IDHS and Department of Healthcare and Family Services; and classroom training for 2,300 caseworkers, managers and clerical staff across the State. Staff worked very hard to learn both the new system and ACA-related policy changes - all while continuing to serve customers every day.

The new system provides modern case management tools that include automated eligibility calculators and electronic data verification, case comments and document management. The IES Project is being implemented in phases and when completed, all caseworkers will move from working on decades-old "green screen" technology to a more modern system that resembles online banking or tax preparation.

In addition, the Division built and launched a new call center to assist customers with applications for medical and SNAP and provide case status information. The Application for Benefits Eligibility (ABE) Customer Call Center (ABE CCC) is also equipped with telephonic signature technology which allows caseworkers to take applications over the phone for the first time. Caseworkers have already fielded 82,983 calls. The ABE CCC can be reached through the IDHS Help Line at 1 (800) 843-6154.

Through IES, benefit application information will be shared with the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace.  As an extension of the Division's long-standing "no wrong door" policy, customers who are found ineligible for Medicaid will have their applications automatically sent to the Marketplace for consideration for subsidies to purchase private insurance. Likewise, Marketplace applicants who are likely eligible for Medicaid will be automatically sent to the State for a Medicaid eligibility determination.

While no technology implementation of this size is flawless, if you have visited a local Family Community Resource Center (FCRC) in the past 2 months, you have witnessed how quickly staff are adapting to the completely redesigned system.

The implementation of IES will continue in phases over the next 18 months with the addition of new case management functionality, redetermination processing, enhanced scheduling tools, new letters and notices and retirement of out-dated legacy systems that are expensive and difficult to maintain.

State helps hundreds of individuals receive special SNAP funds after disaster strikes

Governor Pat Quinn recently announced that the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) provided 111 households (362 individuals) with $46,711 in emergency food assistance. The USDA's Food and Nutrition Services had authorized IDHS to offer special Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to residents in 15 counties declared federal disaster areas as a result of severe storms in November 2013.

"The state of Illinois is taking every step necessary to ensure that families across the state have the resources they need to recover from these tragic storms," Governor Quinn said.  "We have been approved for critical federal aid for individuals, businesses and governments, and now we must ensure our residents are getting life's daily necessities, including access to food. This assistance will provide those affected with extra benefits to buy groceries to feed their families."

Many individuals and their families were eligible for Disaster SNAP if they lived in one of the following counties when the disaster occurred:

  • Champaign
  • Douglas
  • Fayette
  • Grundy
  • Jasper
  • LaSalle
  • Massac
  • Pope
  • Tazewell
  • Vermilion
  • Wabash
  • Washington
  • Wayne
  • Will
  • Woodford
Governor Quinn Storm Recover Event

Storm Recover CrowdDisaster SNAP benefits were provided to families based on total income and assets available to a household during the severe weather event. Non-reimbursed disaster-related expenses were allowed as a deduction from income and assets if verification of the expense was provided.

A qualifying two-person family with a monthly income less than $1,923 would receive a maximum of $347 in benefits; a four-person family with a monthly income less than $2,604 would receive a maximum of $632 in benefits. Most benefits will be available within five days of the date of application.

Persons receiving regular SNAP benefits that were affected by the storms were also eligible to apply for this special program. They may have qualified for additional SNAP benefits to bring their benefit level up to the maximum benefit amount for November 2013. Active SNAP recipients that already received the maximum benefit amount for their unit size were not eligible for additional benefits. Applications for Disaster SNAP benefits are no longer available.

A disaster Distress Hotline is now available serving Washington, East Peoria, and Pekin for residents affected by the November 17 tornado. Trained helpline staff from crisis counseling centers provide counseling, support and information on stress reactions and healthy coping. Callers may also be referred to local resources for follow up care and support. The Disaster Distress Hotline is 1 (800) 985-5990.

Don't forget to claim your Earned Income Tax Credit

Receive as much as $6,648 back in your pocket through the State & Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)!

To find your nearest free tax site:

  • Go to, type in "VITA" in the search box, then use the VITA Locator Tool.
  • Call (800) 906-9887.

For more information, please view or print the EITC Brochure (pdf) provided in both English and Spanish.

Free Tax Help

The Center for Economic Progress and Ladder up will provide free income tax counseling for families with annual incomes less than $50,000 and individuals with annual incomes less than $25,000.  Volunteer tax preparers can assist in filling out federal and state income tax returns for the year 2013, and, in some cases, for prior years.  Most sites will be open between January 18 and April 15, 2014.

What you need to bring:

  • All W-2 and 1099 Forms
  • Social Security Card or ITIN number for all household members and a copy of 2012 tax return.
  • Photo I.D.
  • Copy of most recent property tax bill.
  • Bank routing number and account number to direct deposit your refund.
  • Amount spent on college expenses.

For more information, please view or print the Free Tax Help Brochure (pdf) for tax preparation locations and hours.

Other Happenings at the Illinois Department of Human Services

Illinois Senate confirms both ISVI and ISD Superintendents

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, Janice Smith-Warshaw, Serena Preston, and Sen. Sam McCann

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, Janice Smith-Warshaw, Serena Preston, and Sen. Sam McCann on hand during the confirmations ceremony in November 2013, in Springfield, IL.

Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI) Superintendent Serena Preston and Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) Superintendent Janice Smith-Warshaw were both confirmed by the Illinois Senate in November 2013.

"I have been in education over 25 years in this great state. I have worked in public schools and also at the School for the Visually Impaired," said Preston. "I've been a classroom teacher, a behavior specialist, and I've also been a principal, and I've been serving as the superintendent for the school since July of 2012. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and I thank you for putting your faith in me."

Smith-Warshaw is the first deaf woman superintendent of ISD. She also thanked the legislators who nominated her through a translator.

"As the superintendent for the Illinois School for the Deaf, I'm confident that I can put this school on the map for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the State of Illinois and throughout the United States, as well," Smith-Warshaw said.

Preston and Warshaw's confirmation sponsor was State Senator Sam McCann. State Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer was also on hand to support them.

Smith-Warshaw served at the California School for the Deaf since 2000. She also taught at the model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. and the Delaware School for the Deaf.  Preston is from Jacksonville. She has been an educator for 25 years and has worked at the ISVI in several positions for 16 years.

Veteran public servant to oversee human service programs

The Illinois State Senate recently voted unanimously to confirm the nomination of Nélida Smyser-De León as Assistant Secretary for Programs at the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Ms. Smyser-De León has been serving as Acting Assistant Secretary of Programs since January 2013. Nelida Smyser De LeonShe will oversee the programmatic efforts of the Divisions of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Developmental Disabilities, Family and Community Services, Mental Health, and Rehabilitation Services

"I am thrilled at Nélida's confirmation and look forward to working with her to further improve IDHS programs and services," said IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler. "Her positive energy, experience and shared vision of collaboration and integration of services will benefit the department and help us achieve our goals of independence and self-sufficiency for the people we serve."

Ms. Smyser De León has been with IDHS since July of 2007 and has served in several positions, most recently as Acting Co-Chief of Staff. She was also the Director of the Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, a position she has held since May 2010.

Smyser-De León was Acting Director of the Office of Contract Management from November 2011 to July 2012 and Assistant State Purchasing Officer from July 2007 to May 2010. Prior to joining IDHS, Smyser-De León worked in the private sector for more than 20 years.

After graduating from DePaul University, she began her sales career with Unisys Corporation becoming one of the top Latina sales representatives. She moved into telecommunications, working for MCI selling to fortune 500 companies and independently owned businesses. Shortly after, she was recruited to work for Polaroid Corporation in their business technical division where she left a significant footprint as a leading business development manager. She also worked at River North Distributors (Anheuser Busch) developing their Latino marketing campaign for independent businesses.

Smyser-De León is active in the Latino community and serves on the boards of a number of community organizations in Chicago, including the Illinois Association of Agencies and Community Organizations for Migrant Advocacy (IAACOMA).

New FOID mental health reporting requirements

With the New Year came the implementation of the new IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System, which was activated as part of the Illinois Concealed Carry Act [PA98-063]. The enactment of this new law means a host of changes for mental health facilities, nursing homes, clinical practitioners, physicians, qualified examiners and other health care professionals.

New requirements of the Concealed Carry Act state that mental health practitioners, health care professionals, qualified examiners and institutions must report patients who present a clear and present danger to themselves or another person. All reports are submitted to the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) via the IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System, maintained on the updated FOID website:

Previously, only patients who had been determined by the courts to be mentally disabled or who had been a patient in a mental health inpatient treatment program within the past five years were being reported. Passage of the new Concealed Carry Act, however, expands the mandated reporters to include outpatient mental health treatment programs, physicians, psychologists and qualified examiners and mandates reporting those patients who are believed to pose a clear and present danger to themselves or others.

In addition, there were approximately 100 inpatient settings required to report to the IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System. The Concealed Carry Act expands reporting to include all inpatient settings, all outpatient settings and tens of thousands of licensed health care professionals.

The role of the Illinois Department of Human Services

The Illinois State Police is charged with implementation of the Concealed Carry Legislation including the Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) program. IDHS is committed to working with clinicians, qualified examiners and facilities impacted by the changes of the expanded requirements of the Concealed Carry Act. "We are partnering with our sister state agencies and many statewide associations and other organizations to ensure that clinicians, qualified examiners and facilities understand the importance of the new reporting requirements," explains IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler. In addition to the State Police, the sister state agencies involved in the FOID program are the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and the Department of Public Health.

Who should report?

The Concealed Carry Act includes broader definitions of mental health treatment facilities and clinicians. Those facilities required to report include; hospitals, nursing homes, residential settings and outpatient facilities.

Clinicians are defined as physicians; psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and qualified examiners. A qualified examiner includes; social workers, registered nurses, clinical professional counselors and marriage and family therapists who report only if they have an additional 3 years of clinical experience involving evaluation and treatment with patients that are mentally ill.

What should be reported?

The IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System allows clinicians, mental health facilities and qualified examiners to report patients who meet any of the following criteria: adjudicated mentally disabled person; have been voluntarily admitted to a licensed psychiatric unit; are determined to be a clear and present danger; or that are determined to be developmentally disabled/intellectually disabled. All reporting is confidential and HIPAA compliant.

The Concealed Carry Act also clarifies what it means to be a clear and present danger:  A Clear and Present Danger in HB 183 is defined as a person who (1) communicates a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or poses a clear and imminent risk of serious physical injury to himself, herself or another person as determined by a physician, clinical psychologist, or qualified examiner; or (2) demonstrates threatening physical or verbal behavior, such as violent, suicidal, or assaultive threats, actions, or other behavior, as determined by a physician, clinical psychologist, qualified examiner, school administrator, or law enforcement official.

Developmentally Disabled describes a disability which is attributable to any other condition which results in impairment similar to that caused by an intellectual disability and which requires services similar to those required by intellectually disabled persons. The disability must originate before the age of 18 years, be expected to continue indefinitely, and constitute a substantial handicap.

Facilities that provide inpatient mental health treatment must report: any admission within seven days of admission date; any clear and present danger within 24 hours; and any developmentally disabled/intellectually disabled person within 24 hours.

Facilities that provide outpatient mental health treatment only need to report: court adjudications within seven days; clear and present dangers within 24 hours; and any developmentally disabled/intellectually disabled within 24 hours.

Clinicians must report: any clear and present danger and developmentally disabled/intellectually disabled person within 24 hours.

Clinicians and qualified examiners should only report a patient on the IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System if they believe that specific individual is determined to pose a clear and present danger to themselves or others or determined to be developmentally disabled.

It is important to note that clinicians and qualified examiners shall not be held liable for making or not making a report except in cases of willful and wanton misconduct. Also, the identity of the person making the report shall not be released to the subject of the report.

To learn more about the IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System, please visit

An electronic version of the FOID Mental Health Reporting User Manual is provided online detailing descriptions on the use of the IDHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System. If you have any questions, please email IDHS at DHS.FOID@Illinois.Gov.

The Illinois Framework releases free interactive handbook for states

The Illinois Framework is pleased to announce the release of Establishing Governance for Health and Human Services Interoperability Initiatives, a handbook for states and local jurisdictions contemplating interoperability projects. A step-by-step guide for implementing governance models in cross-agency settings, the handbook draws from expert interviews, intensive research into best practice, and the experience of the Illinois Framework in developing a governance model for Illinois' health and human services agencies.

Available in print and online, the handbook includes interactive features such as audio recordings of interviews, links to reports and white papers, and a toolkit of key documents such as charters and memoranda. Funding for the handbook was provided by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Partnership Fund Pilot State Systems Interoperability and Integration (S212) Grant Project, a one-year planning grant distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

To order a copy of the handbook, please send your request to The online version is available on

Employment works

24 year old JamalJamal is a 24-year old male diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. In addition to Jamal's struggles with depression, excessive anxiety and hopeless thinking, he grew up in a household of drug and alcohol abuse. Jamal says he wants a better life and knows the only way he will succeed is by working hard to complete his goals. Jamal participates in Thresholds' Individual Placement and Support program, where he has a say in developing his own recovery plan. Jamal's service plan is integrated to include Mental Health services and Vocational Rehabilitation services. The Evidence Based Model mentioned above is a high quality systematic approach to helping people with severe mental illness achieve competitive employment. Jamal obtained his first job in July 2012 at a local Home Improvement store. Jamal's work responsibility includes helping customers carry large items to their car.

For Jamal, working has opened the lines of communication. The Clinical and Supported Employment staff noticed an improvement in Jamal's communication skills since he has been employed. Jamal likes being called "sir" when he is asked by the customers for assistance. Jamal states "I feel respected by customers at my job." Jamal uses skills learned in the program to make a favorable impression on the job. Employment has also boosted Jamal's confidence level. Some of Jamal's interests include video games, watching TV, and reading, talking to people and working. Jamal hopes to one day attend college. In the meantime, Jamal would like to continue working at the Home Improvement store for "as long as I can."

Contributed by: Gail Matchette, CRC, LCPC, Thresholds Supported Employment, Kankakee, IL

IPS helps put people to work

Nothing says recovery like a job! And the number of people with significant mental health challenges who are working is on the rise! Through an intensive and unique collaboration between various divisions of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and community based mental health providers, Illinois' DRS rehabilitation rate has risen to 72% for persons with serious mental illnesses receiving Individual Placement and Support (IPS). This is a 9% rise in rehabilitation rate from FY12 and represents excellence by any standard. Persons are considered "rehabilitated" when they are stable in employment for at least 90 days in mainstream competitive jobs that fit their strengths, challenges, and preferences, making the same wages as anyone else would make for that job.

Nationally about 60% of persons with serious mental illnesses say they want to work, but only about 15% are employed. So, Illinois' 72% rehabilitation rate for IPS is certainly noteworthy. But more importantly, people who want to work are getting the supports they need to be successful - and their willingness to work hard and risk potential failure for the opportunity to join the workforce is paying off.

IPS is an evidence-based practice that supports individuals with severe mental illnesses in the vocational exploration and job finding process. IPS improves long-term well-being. Once a person obtains a job, job supports are highly individualized and fully integrated with their mental health treatment. More than 16 clinical studies on IPS have found it to be three times more effective in symptom reduction, reduced psychiatric hospitalizations, successful job placement, length of job retention and overall improved health when compared to other vocational models.

People who obtain competitive employment through IPS have increased income, improved self-esteem, improved quality of life, and reduced symptoms. Approximately 40% of clients who obtain a job with help from IPS become steady workers and remain competitively employed a decade later.

This successful innovative collaboration between the agency's divisions of rehabilitation services and mental health are fueling program expansion. In 2006, Illinois had seven IPS sites. In FY 13 there were 34 sites. And by the end of FY 14 we expect to have 50 sites. Illinois currently has the capacity to provide this service to approximately 1,200 persons at a time, and each person is typically in the program for 18 months.

Illinois' Mental Health 2013 - 2018 Strategic Plan calls for IPS to become a core mental health service and to be implemented at 75% of community MH programs by 2018. IPS is cost effective. It has been shown to reduce health care expenditures substantially, to mitigate disability, and with those experiencing first episodes of psychosis to even prevent disability. Illinois has clearly demonstrated it has the knowledge capital to effectively implement IPS!

IDHS announces plan to improve accountability of Home Services Program

In January 2014, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) launched a new timekeeping system for the Home Services Program (HSP) that will safeguard against fraud and ensure quality services for 30,000 Illinoisans

"While the majority of our home-care workers are honest and caring people, we want to ensure that all people who need in-home care get the quality services they need and deserve," said IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler. "This state-of-the-art electronic timekeeping system will improve the accuracy and oversight of the program while improving the quality of care. It will be the most stringent timekeeping system in the program's history."

The IDHS recently signed a contract with Sandata Technologies, LLC to implement an Electronic Visit Verification TM system for the nearly 30,000 Individual Providers currently working under the Home Services Program. The new electronic system was implemented January 1, 2014. It will offer many controls that aren't feasible in the existing paper-based system. The fully integrated electronic timekeeping system will reduce erroneous billings, safeguard against fraud, improve program oversight, and ensure the quality of services delivered in the home.

The new timekeeping system will also:

  • Be fully integrated with state of Illinois data and payroll systems creating additional operational efficiencies,
  • Eliminate manual time sheet processing,
  • Ensure recipients are receiving necessary services, and
  • Alert case managers where indications of abuse or neglect are flagged by the system.

The primary purpose of the Home Services Program is to ensure that individuals with significant disabilities can live in their own homes and direct their own personal care. Individual providers provide various services to people with severe disabilities, such as household tasks and personal care, so they can remain in their homes and be as independent as possible. Individual provides are compensated by the state of Illinois but selected, employed and supervised by individual consumers.

We hope you enjoyed reading this edition of our Public Engagement Newsletter. As always, please feel free to forward and share our newsletter and attachments with your networks, partners, colleagues, customers, and friends.

Don't forget to register online to continue receiving future issues of the Illinois Department of Human Services Public Engagement Newsletter!

Aurelio Huertas Fabrizio
Editor-in-Chief | Public Engagement Newsletter
Office: 312.793.9959 | Cell: 312.515.8039 | Fax: 312.793.2351 | TTY: 800.447.6404