Local agencies mostly prepared for cuts

2010-07-01T21:19:00Z 2010-07-02T19:26:21Z Local agencies mostly prepared for cutsBy Paul Swiech | pswiech@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON — Eligibility has been tightened for a program that helps older adults remain safe at home by providing in-home assistance.

Until Thursday’s state budget cuts, U.S. citizens or legal aliens age 60 and older could qualify for the Community Care Program if they were Illinois residents, had a demonstrated need for long-term care and had non-exempt assets of $17,500 or less. Non-exempt assets don’t include home, car or personal furnishings.

With the budget cuts, the asset level was reduced to $2,000 or less, explained Mike O’Donnell, executive director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging. But O’Donnell admitted that the cuts could have been worse and that conclusion was echoed by representatives of other human services agencies.

“We’re disappointed that the state has had to take this action, but we understand that the revenue isn’t there,” O’Donnell said.

The good news is Peace Meal and senior transportation programs have not been cut, he said. He predicted that demand for those services will increase as fewer older adults qualify for in-home services, such as homemaker services, meal assistance and emergency response systems.

O’Donnell urged older adults and their family members to continue to call for in-home assessments of need, which remain available at no charge.

Marcfirst, which supports people with developmental disabilities, will see funding reduced by $223,000 but had anticipated the reduction and already made adjustments, Chief Executive Officer Rick Glass said.

While Marcfirst eliminated or reduced programs and cut 60 jobs as a result of last year’s state budget cuts, Thursday’s cut was anticipated so no one will lose their jobs or lose services.

But Glass expects the state to fall further behind in payments to agencies. The state is 90 days behind in reimbursing Marcfirst for services and Glass expects that to extend to 120 days.

Lisa Pieper, regional vice president for Children’s Home + Aid Children’s Foundation, said three-fourths of their programs will get the same funding as last year but one-fourth will experience cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent. Pieper said the agency’s budget was crafted with the cuts in mind and no additional layoffs or program reductions are anticipated.

But Pieper is concerned that the state will cut further because the budget gap has not been closed.

“I will be shocked if we don’t have further cuts to deal with,” she said.

Dale Strassheim, CEO of The Baby Fold, said his agency’s allocations will be about equal to last year’s. But the state is behind by $650,000 in reimbursing Baby Fold for services provided, so Strassheim questioned whether Baby Fold and other agencies will get all the money promised by the state.

Alan Sender, chief operating officer of Chestnut Health Systems, said money for substance abuse treatment for people who can’t pay on their own will be cut 5 to 10 percent. Chestnut budgeted for an 8 percent cut so is prepared but Sender noted that’s on top of a 13 percent cut over the previous two years.

“This is another step in a three-year process of financial implosion by the state,” he said.

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