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Rule could force choice between federal funds or anti-LGBT discrimination
by Matt Simonette

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Grave financial and moral choices await Illinois authorities if the U.S. House of Representatives passes a budget amendment penalizing states prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in their adoption and foster care system, say stakeholders.

A group composed of elected officials, service providers and advocates, among others, called on the Illinois' Congressional delegation to uniformly reject the proposed Aderholt Amendment, which was attached as a budget rider on a bill funding the Departments of Health, Labor and Education, at a July 16 press conference at the UCAN offices in Homan Square.

The amendment—which, according to its authors, supposedly "prohibits discrimination against a child welfare service provider based on the provider's religious or moral beliefs"—allows the federal government to withhold up to 15 percent of funding for child welfare programs if a state does not permit an agency to refuse to work with LGBT families. U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt ( R-AL ) proposed the rule.

Since Illinois has strong protections against such discrimination in place, about $94 million dollars in funding would be at stake, said James McIntyre of Foster Care Alumni of America's Illinois chapter, who added that the primary impediment to quality foster care is not religious-based discrimination, but, rather, "not enough providers of loving homes.

State representatives from both sides of the aisle voiced their opposition to the amendment; state Rep. Steve Andersson ( R-Geneva ) decried the use of "religious-held beliefs" as the rationale for the rule, adding, "This is not the sort of issue we should be revisiting."

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy ( D-Chicago ) called on Gov. Bruce Rauner to voice an objection to the amendment and said, "It is time to put this nonsense aside and move forward."

After the amendment passed a committee vote on July 11, Aderholt released a statement lauding its passage, asserting that the legislation would both increase placements in loving homes and help families who had been negatively affected by the opioid crises.

Both rationales were dismissed at the July 16 conference. Amanda McMillen, chief program officer of Illinois Collaboration on Youth, said that, while the state does indeed have numerous flaws in its child welfare system, the state's anti-discrimination protections are not contributing to those problems. Colleen Connell, executive director of ACLU of Illinois, vehemently disputed the assertion about the opioid epidemic, saying the new rule would make it that much for difficult for children adversely impacted by the epidemic to find stable homes; she further called Aderholt's idea "absurd."

McIntyre said the next step was reaching out to the members of the state's Congressional delegation—especially Republicans—to reiterate the implications of the bill.

"We have to tell them not to vote 'yes' just because it is a budget bill," he added.

There are about 7,000 children in foster care in Cook County, according to Cook County Acting Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who also spoke July 16. Kyle Hillman of National Association of Social Workers' Illinois chapter also gave remarks.

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