ALTON — Since Gov. Bruce Rauner announced his proposed budget cuts, state and local governments have scrambled to voice their concerns on how people will be affected by such drastic changes.
Local senior citizens, caregivers and representatives gathered July 9 at Senior Services Plus in Alton to provide testimony that will be sent to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services for review.
Within broad federal guidelines, states can develop home and community-based service waivers (1915 (c)) to meet the needs of people who prefer to get long-term care services and support in their home or community, rather than in an institutional setting.
“Public comment has to be submitted through email or sent in the U.S. mail by July 19,” Senior Services Plus Associate Executive Director Theresa Collins said. “We are looking for a decision to be made very late August or early September on the 1915 (c) waiver. Those changes can be enacted immediately, which would mean approximately 24,000 people would be removed from the program.”
On June 30, Collins and a recipient of the agency’s in-home services, Kathleen Andrews, traveled to Springfield to provide testimony in front of the Illinois House of Representatives about the effects of reduced funding for the Community Care Program.
“I don’t know what I would do without the care and help from my home care aide,” Andrews testified. “She helps me with bathing, preparing my food and taking me to my doctors’ appointments.”
Rauner’s proposal suggests changing the eligibility requirements for the Community Care Program. The Determination of Need score determines an applicant’s need for assistance. A score of 29 or above means a senior is eligible for the program. Rauner is proposing raising the score from 29 to 37, which would eliminate services for more than 24,000 Illinoisans. Premature nursing home placement is one of the many concerns individuals, families and caregivers are facing.
The proposal aims to cut $140 million from the Community Care Program, which will deny future assistance to approximately 38 percent of Illinois seniors.
“My father-in-law and I have a good relationship, but I’ve seen him go downhill since he’s had Alzheimer’s,” Granite City resident Lloyd Davis said. “As soon as my wife got her father into this daycare, we’ve seen changes. He’s perking up and his social skills have improved. He’s acted like he has something to do and something to live for. I’m afraid if they take this away, we won’t be able to motivate him to do things, where he will do them for the people who take care of him. If we put him in a position where he can’t go back to the daycare, I think he’ll slink back into a chair and just watch TV. He doesn’t want to do anything at all but go to the daycare facility.”
As an agency, Senior Services Plus holds the view that if a budget isn’t put in place soon, senior citizens will suffer and be forced into life-threatening situations.
“I get very emotional about this,” Collins said. “We serve 708 in their homes every day through the Community Care Program. I know the need. I don’t know what to tell these seniors, I don’t know how to help them and I don’t know what other resources to direct them to. I don’t know how we are going to keep people from being found dead in their home without these supports ... I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m fearful for our community.”
The Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program took a major hit. Local seniors formerly receiving assistance from the program may have a difficult time paying their utility bills this year. The program allows low-income households to pay no more than 6 percent of their gross household income toward their utility bill.
Participants recently were notified by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that the program would be suspended July 1. Since receiving these notices, former recipients have been reaching out to local organizations, including Senior Services Plus, for help paying their utility bills. Kelly Chapman, information and assistance coordinator at Senior Services Plus, has received numerous calls from desperate seniors saying they expect their power bills to more than double within the next month and they simply do not have the money.
Judith, 78, recently was notified by Madison County Community Development that she will lose her help paying for utilities.
“It was a shock to me to get the letter,” Judith said. “I thought everything was fine. I had an appointment to recertify for the program this year.”
Judith lives on less than $1,000 a month and while on the utility assistance program, she paid no more than 6 percent of her income for gas and electric ($57 per month). The program allowed her to keep living independently in her home.
Without the help, she expects her power bill to cost more than $100 per month. She says this is more than she can afford living on a fixed income.
“I don’t know how people are going to make it without assistance,” she said.
“It has been truly heartbreaking to be on the receiving end of these phone calls,” Chapman said. “As information and assistance coordinator, I do my best to refer individuals to other agencies or programs that may be able to offer assistance, but with few other options, it has been a challenge. I believe his actions will be devastating to senior citizens and individuals with disabilities. I encourage anyone who disagrees with the governor’s actions to contact his office at (217) 782-6830 or (312) 814-2121 to voice your support for LIHEAP and the PIPP program.”
Senior Services Plus and www.savecommunitycare.org are asking people to reach out to their local representatives to express their concerns. For information, visit www.seniorservicesplus.org or www.savecommunitycare.org, or call Rauner’s office at (217) 782-0244.
Because CCP is a Medicaid waiver program, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will review the governor’s final request for possible approval. CMS allows for a 30-day public comment period that expires July 18. Verbal testimony from the Senior Services Plus hearing will be submitted to the state of Illinois.
Individuals unable to attend the hearing can comment before July 18 by email at HFS.SWTransitionPlan@illinois.gov or by U.S. mail: HFS, ATTN: Waiver Management – 201 South Grand Ave. East 2nd Floor, Springfield, IL 62763. Individuals must clearly identify the name of the wavier (1915c Home and Community-Based Services Waiver for Persons who are Elderly) in their comments.