By Shen Wu Tan
Gov. Rauner’s second budget proposed to cut nearly $200 million from the Community Care Program, which provides homecare services for seniors. If passed, these budget cuts would impact approximately 44,000 seniors according to the Service Employees International Union Healthcare.
“The Community Care program is a trusted program that has kept seniors living in their own homes for many, many years,” said Terri Harkin, home care vice president of SEIU Healthcare. “And it saves the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year by keeping vulnerable seniors out of nursing homes and living in their own homes where they prefer to be.”
About 84,000 seniors utilized community care services in 2015 as reported by the Illinois Department of Aging. Services include adult day services, in-home services and emergency home response services.
Charlotte Stephenson, 69, is one of the thousands of seniors who is part of the Community Care program. Stephenson suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and relies on an oxygen tank to breathe. Due to her condition, she needs assistance from a homecare worker to live in the community.
“I don’t understand why the budget cuts are starting with the senior program,” Stephenson said. “We are older. We need help. We want to stay in the community, function in the community.”
The Illinois Department of Aging estimates that the state’s aging population will more than double from 2000 to 2030. Over the past decade, the Community Care program has increased by 105 percent according to the department. If the Community Care Program continues as it does currently, the department approximates it will cost an additional $93.9 million in the next six years.
As part of the proposed budget plan, the Illinois Department on Aging intends to transfer Community Care Program recipients ineligible for Medicaid into a new initiative called the Community Reinvestment Program.
By moving half of the Community Care recipients to the new program, the SEIU said each senior loses an average of about $4,520 in services annually or a 43 percent cut.
However, according to the Illinois Department on Aging, the Community Reinvestment Program would maintain community-based resources for the current aging population and address the anticipated population growth while also saving the state millions in the long-run. There is currently no budget set for this initiative.
Although the department assured that seniors will continue to receive services they need, Patricia Brierton, 55, said she is not convinced. Brierton began using Community Care services in September when she started chemotherapy treatment to fight colon cancer.
“My knee-jerk reaction to it is it’s a trip to fantasy island,” Brierton said. “Because at this point you can propose any darn thing you want. But the reality of it is, if there’s no budget, there’s no budget. And he’s [Gov. Rauner] not going to grab one out of thin air. And if we are losing real services now, how is he going to create services in the future with no money?”
She said the chemotherapy exhausts her and she does not have the energy for household tasks. Her homecare worker visits her 10 hours a week to help Brierton with her daily needs.
“The elderly is an incredible vulnerable population,” Brierton said. “We lived our lives believing the American dream, contributing to pensions, doing what we were supposed to do. And suddenly, we’re without power. And the power that is in place is telling us that we don’t matter on any level – that we are expendable and that’s insulting.”
Gov. Rauner could not be reached for comment regarding cuts to the Community Care program.
Correction: 03/08/2016. Originally the story incorrectly attributed the statement about the CRP maintaining community-based resources for the aging population to the Department of Human Services. It was a representative from the Illinois Department on Aging who said this. Medill Reports regrets the error.