AARP: State budget impasse affecting seniors

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The current budget impasse in Springfield is already hurting older Illinoisans in other parts of the state, according to the AARP Illinois.

While Governor Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly seem unable to come to a budget agreement, senior centers in at least five communities had to shut down, cutting thousands of older residents from critical services, from meals on wheels to energy assistance, to doctor's appointments.

Senior centers in Columbia, Waterloo, Red Bud, Chester and East St. Louis in the Metro East area, have shut down partially or altogether, laying off staff and cancelling services as the support they received from the state has stopped, due to the budget impasse currently affecting services like the Community Care Program (CCP) or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Other centers in three northern Illinois counties – Putnam, LaSalle and Bureau – are projected to shut down by Sept. 1, if nothing changes.

"Thousands of older Illinoisans who relied on critical services are now at a loss and without anywhere else to go, in situations that endanger their lives," said Ryan Gruenenfelder, AARP Illinois Advocacy and Outreach Manager. "AARP urges Gov. Rauner and the legislative leadership to lay differences aside and agree on a budget that provides the programs and services countless Illinoisans rely on and cannot do without."

In the absence of a budget agreement, the Illinois Senate on Tuesday passed legislation – Senate Bill 2042 with Senate Amendment 1 – which provides appropriations for remaining federal funds. The amendment, introduced by State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, appropriates federal pass-through dollars for a wide scope of programs: LIHEAP, domestic violence programs, WIC, homeless veterans program, home delivered meals, elder abuse prevention and ombudsman training. 

The Senate approved the bill and amendment 57-0 to spend the $4.8 billion. The House is expected to take up the measure when it returns next week. Gov. Rauner supports the bill.

"AARP supports SB 2042, Senate Amendment 1, as it will allow for critical programs to receive federal funds, and help keep local organizations open to fulfill their missions. But it is imperative that the governor and legislators come to an agreement that provides the state with the FY16 budget it urgently needs," Gruenenfelder added.

Without a state budget, nearly 39,000 older Illinoisans who receive CCP services in their own homes and communities are at great risk of losing those services and have no alternative other than costly and often unnecessary institutional care. An additional 150,000 low-income households depend on LIHEAP for cooling and heating assistance.

The cuts affect not just the individuals receiving the programs and services – the community agencies providing those services will also be gravely hit, as agencies lay workers off or shut down, creating a negative ripple effect in countless local economies across Illinois.

Additionally, those individuals who are caregivers for CCP clients will also be hurt – many will have to cut hours from work or leave their jobs altogether to care for Mom and Dad, further compounding the drastic effect on local economies.

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