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Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 12:07 am

Candidates for governor address seniors’ concerns

 On Feb. 6, Democratic gubernatorial candidates and running mates fielded questions from area locals at an Illinois Seniors State of the State forum.

The forum, held at Senior Services of Central Illinois and hosted by the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, Caring Across Generations and Service Employees International Union Healthcare, featured candidates Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, Bob Daiber, J.B. Pritzker’s running mate Rep. Juliana Stratton, D-Chicago, and Chris Kennedy’s running mate, Ra Joy.  

Don Todd, Springfield resident and president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said, “I rely on my pensions as a primary source of income. What will you do to protect these earned benefits?”

Daiber, the regional superintendent for Madison County schools, told Todd that he would “put safeguards in place” as governor to protect pensions.

“You and I made a decision in our careers that we would serve the public,” Daiber said. “We weren’t venture capitalists. We made a respectful income with a guarantee that we were going to be given a respectful retirement, and we deserve that.”

Both Daiber and Biss focused on finding a steady revenue stream for pensions. Biss said, “It’s time for us to learn from successful pension systems” that guarantee state contributions every year, “not just when it’s convenient.”

Stratton, Pritzker’s running mate, suggested increased payments to the pension fund and “looking at” the amortization – or payment plan – of the current pension system.

“Something must be done,” she said. “We can’t just sit on this issue and not respond to it. I don’t think we need to spend all of our time just trying to place blame, because there’s a lot of blame to go around … but we have to do something, and that’s a plan that we would have.”

Joy spoke on re-amortization, referencing a plan designed by Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, as well the $107 billion bond sales “moonshot” plan proposed by the State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA) last month. SUAA serves beneficiaries of the State University Retirement System.

“It’s important to note that this is a manufactured crisis,” Joy said. “It’s something that we have the ability to address.”

Another topic of the evening was keeping senior citizens and people with disabilities in their homes, rather than forcing them into nursing homes and care facilities. Community members posed questions over people getting priced out of their homes because of the rent or property tax hikes, or losing access to care and assistance because of the changes in caregivers’ overtime policy.

“We know that every senior should have the ability to choose which setting they want to be in when they receive care and not be forced into nursing homes when they want to stay in their homes,” Stratton said. “That’s exactly what Governor Rauner has done with all of his cuts to the Community Care Program.”

Biss said, “I fought in Springfield to pass legislation to reverse Rauner’s awful cuts several times. Nobody should be at risk of not being able to age at home in dignity.”

Biss went on to speak about the problems facing caregivers, saying, “We need living wages and training and Congress-supported overtime for the workers to make sure those services are always there for everyone.”

Daiber pointed out issues of inconsistency with Medicaid for people living in nursing homes versus people living outside of nursing homes. He said people living outside of nursing homes often incur additional expenses that Medicaid doesn’t cover.

“By you living in your home, you are saving the state $3,000 a month,” Daiber said. “Let’s get it right.”

All six Democratic gubernatorial candidates have said they will be in Springfield Feb. 21 to attend a debate in the Studio Theater at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Megan Swett is an editorial intern for Illinois Times through the public affairs reporting program of University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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