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Photo by Diane Cox
A concerned citizen talks to Ryan Gruenenfelder of AARP about the lack of a state budget and how it’s affecting seniors.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs talked to more than 100 senior citizens at Senior Services Plus in Alton Thursday about Illinois’ budget woes.
ALTON — Concerned citizens gathered Thursday at Senior Services Plus in Alton to call for the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner to pass a budget before more residents lose vital services they need to survive on their own.
With thousands of older adults at risk of, or already losing, in-home services because of the current budget stalemate, AARP, State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, community organizations and residents gathered to urge the Illinois legislature and Rauner to settle their difference and pass a budget.
“The lack of a state budget is not only hurting countless older residents, individuals with disabilities, children and working families; it is also deepening our financial crisis now and in the foreseeable future,” AARP Manager of Advocacy and Outreach Ryan Gruenenfelder said. “Fully funding home and community-based services is a win-win, as it both protects the dignity and independence of those who rely on the services and it is good stewardship of state taxpayer dollars.”
Associate Executive Director Theresa Collins became emotional when she spoke to the crowd of more than 100 area citizens and staff concerning the impact on SSP of not having a state budget.
“We are one of the largest employers in the Riverbend area with more than 400 staff members and we provide services to more than 3,000 people a day,” Collins said. “Unfortunately as a result of budget impasse, we have been forced to reduce staff positions in our nutrition and transportation departments and reduce our services. We’ve had to reduce our Meals on Wheels service from five days a week to just two. We fear for these individuals that are losing the life-sustaining services and for the family members who have to care for them.”
Frerichs called for the General Assembly and the governor to pass a budget for the people of Illinois.
“The financial crisis in Illinois is hurting our state’s most vulnerable, including Illinois seniors,” Frerichs said. “It is vital that the governor and the General Assembly put aside their differences and stop dismantling the entire services for seniors programs and end this budget impasse and alleviate the uncertainty for the many families who rely on state funding.”
Representatives from area senior support services were on hand to show their support on insisting that a budget be passed. Southwest Illinois Visiting Nurses Association Executive Director Michael Bader addressed the crowd as well as Ed Officer, the executive director of the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center in East St. Louis. Joy Paeth, CEO of AgeSmart Community Resources in Belleville, gave statistical data about the number of seniors affected in Illinois.
“More than 40,000 seniors rely on the services provided by AgeSmart Community Resources, but because of the lack of budget, we’ve had to cut staff and services,” Paeth said. “Approximately 70 percent of our funding comes from the Federal Older Americans Act, the remainder comes from the state of Illinois. Seniors have become the forgotten ones as legislators challenge each other’s priorities. This process will create an out-migration of older adults, as Illinois will not be a place to retire if our senior infrastructure continues to take the brunt of not having a budget. Here is a sobering and telling example of the impact of having no state funds for Meals on Wheels. 40,700 people rely on Meals on Wheels every day. By relying on only federal funds, we can feed 28,490. Without state funds, 12,210 will go without a meal.”
Local residents Francis Conzales and Mary Jo and John Kennedy spoke to the crowd about their personal needs and the services they’ve been provided and how it will affect them when those services are cut because of the budget impasse.
Social Services volunteer Katie Henderson stood before the crowd to remind them to also encourage Rauner to address the utility bill assistance cuts power companies are making across the state.
“It’s bad enough that people are going hungry with this budget problem, but now they’re going to be cold this winter, too,” Henderson said. “These power assistance programs are funded when people chose to pay an additional amount on each bill. The state has taken that money and those services are being cut. It makes me mad as hell. We all should be mad as hell.”
Frerichs is calling for concerned Illinois citizens to contact their elected officials and ask them to work across the aisle to get the budget passed.
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