Effective immediately and in response to the continuing budget stalemate in Illinois, Senior Services Plus has been forced to cut operational costs and limit community support across Madison and St. Clair Counties.
The changes include: reduction of the number of Meals On Wheels deliveries, the complete elimination of Older Adult funded transportation in the Alton area, and reduction of staff hours and positions.
Low-income and at-risk seniors rely on Meals On Wheels for 33 percent of their daily nutrition. Because of the budget crisis, 40 percent fewer seniors will be receiving meals, and those who do receive only 4 meals will be delivered once per week.
Having received notification of funding reductions on Dec. 29 from Age Smart Community Resources, Senior Services Plus reluctantly reduces services in response to nearly 200 days without a budget and being owed more than $1.5 million from the state of Illinois.
“This reduction in Meals On Wheels for seniors is quite simply criminal,” SSP Executive Director Jonathan Becker said. “We are putting the most vulnerable and medically frail seniors in our communities at risk, and no one seems to care.”
The true cost of a daily Meal On Wheel is $8, with $3.92 per meal funded from the state of Illinois through Age Smart Community Resources. Recipients are asked to make a donation, with the average senior being able to contribute just 69 cents.
Reliable meals are critical for seniors and are a proven technique for keeping people in their homes, avoiding costly institutional care. The average cost of a nursing home is $150 per day for seniors on Medicaid.
The elimination of transportation for older adults will adversely affect low-income residents’ ability to access health care and other community resources. Most seniors who use transportation services do not have family or other help and are therefore at risk of further isolation.
“These are seniors who have worked their entire lives, paid taxes, built our communities and now in their time of need we are leaving them out in the cold,” Becker said.
Two nutrition staff are part of the current elimination, in addition to three drivers in late summer. In total, five staff positions have been eliminated or cut back.
Senior Services Plus is working to develop other revenue streams to avoid the financial problems that have lingered in the state of Illinois for years, though felt most painfully in 2015. These efforts include an innovative hydroponic greenhouse system for organic food production. It also includes a 16,500-square-foot expansion of SSP’s flagship program, the Wellness Center.
The center is one of a kind in the region, providing a variety of health and wellness opportunities. A capital campaign is under way to fulfill the expansion and, once completed, will provide financial resources to cover the costs of mission-driven services like Meals On Wheels.
“The Pathway to Wellness campaign will not only create new standards in the field of aging, the revenues generated, through an expanded Wellness Center, will allow us to continue to provide vital services as we brace for a 30 percent increase in people over age 55 in our communities,” Becker said. “That is why this is so heartbreaking about the current financial crisis — it’s like the state of Illinois is sticking it to the very organizations trying hardest to help those most vulnerable, aging seniors. Until somebody takes a stand to stop the madness, it’s only going to get worse for this growing population of people.”
Senior Services Plus is located at 2603 N. Rodgers Ave. in Alton. Senior Services Plus has been the “Leader in Aging” for more than 43 years in Illinois, including Madison, St. Clair, Macoupin, Marion, Jersey, and Clinton counties. The agency is a nonprofit United Way agency established to help enrich the lives of older adults through programs and services that encourage independent living. Services include: Home Care, Meals On Wheels, Transportation, Healthy Connections, Wellness Center, Information & Assistance, Foster Grandparents, Travel, Events & Activities, School House Grill & Congregate Dining, and Medical Monitoring.
For information, call (618) 465-3298.