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Thursday, May 18, 2017 12:06 am

Saving seniors from budget cuts

A new bill pledges to save low-income seniors from budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
In a press conference at the State Capitol on May 10, Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie, Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, and health-care advocates introduced the measure, imploring lawmakers to stop Rauner’s proposal.   

  The bill requires that Illinois citizens who are 60 years old or older, have a need for long-term care, have assets of $17,500 or less and are at risk for nursing facility placement are eligible to receive equal access to services under the Community Care Program (CCP), an initiative which helps senior citizens remain in their homes through community-based services instead of nursing home placement.  

Rauner’s proposed $120 million budget cuts in the budget he presented months ago would move 36,000 seniors from the CCP into the new Community Reinvestment Program (CRP), which targets   seniors because they are not eligible for Medicaid. According to the Civic Federation, CRP services are projected to cost $530 per month, 60 percent less than the services provided by the CCP, which provides $883 per month for participants.

In April, Rauner proposed the CRP to the Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a move criticized by health-care proponents, saying that the governor was bypassing the General Assembly in introducing an unproven program which could give the Department on Aging (DOA) the authority to make cuts at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, the Rauner administration contends that the CRP is a resourceful and cost-effective way to provide home care for seniors.

“I am here today to deliver a message to Gov. Rauner: we are fed up with his attacks on senior citizens,” Barbara Franklin, president of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, said at the press conference. “That is why we are standing with our allies today to ensure that the CCP continues to keep elderly Illinoisans in their homes as long as possible. Every senior deserves to receive the full care that they need.”

In an interview, AARP Illinois Director of Advocacy Ryan Gruenenfelder criticized the CRP.  
“The AARP is extremely concerned about the CRP. One of the main reasons is that the CRP is an unproven program that does not have statutory authority,” Grunenfelder said. “The DOA has not tested it and there has not been a demonstration project. This is a conceptual proposal that has been designed with no facts, figures or proof.”

Conversely, Jennifer Reif, deputy director for the DOA, contended that the CRP is a suitable substitute to the CCP. “While supporting our aging community, it is imperative that the state find a balance between meeting client needs and the resources the state has available to serve them,” Reif said. “The anticipated growth of the aging population over the next 13 years is significant; the Department on Aging needed to find a way to maintain services for current clients while increasing our capacity to serve new clients. The Community Reinvestment Program is a responsible and proactive solution to a challenge that, if not addressed now, could diminish the CCP for future participants.”

Reif added that while the CCP has been a valuable and necessary program for older adults in Illinois, the CRP would allow the DOA and their network partners greater flexibility in providing services to individuals not eligible for Medicaid. “CRP will be part of the overall continuum of care for our aging population,” she said. “The CRP reinforces the Department’s mission to maintain individuals in their own homes and communities, delay the number of admissions in nursing facilities and sustain needed services for the rising number of seniors in Illinois.”

Ashley Baugher, a senior caregiver from Murphysboro, described the significance of the CCP in an interview. “It is important for lawmakers to keep the home care workers in the house to help the seniors. Seniors do not want to be put in nursing homes. They rely on us as home care workers,” Boyers said. “I have a client who I work for five days a week, and I don’t know if she’s going to get those services if Rauner makes those cuts.”  
Donna Peek, a home care worker from McLeansboro, agreed with Boyers. “We got people who can’t do certain things due to health problems or accidents. I’ve got clients who cannot bathe themselves. If I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have showers,” she said. “Rauner’s cuts will impact seniors by the simple fact that they won’t have those services. Period.”

 Gruenenfelder contends that the bill to help low-income seniors is an adequate alternative to the CRP. “This bill is an effort by the AARP, lawmakers and other health-care advocates to guarantee that the CCP remains whole,” he said. “We want to maintain that the CCP stays untouched and ensure that any statewide programs, like the CRP, must go through the full process of statute and approval of the General Assembly.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com
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