SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Bruce Rauner said he wants to help the state’s most vulnerable citizens, but one advocate said his budget proposal could force dozens of those residents into nursing homes and cost the state even more money.
A $77 million cut to the Home Services program is part of Rauner’s proposal to slash $1.2 billion from the Department of Human Services.
Rauner said it will be a tough budget year, but things will get done.
“Well they’re going to be dealing with limited resources and they’re going to be dealing with frustrated constituents,” he said at a news conference after a cabinet meeting Wednesday. “We’ve got to think differently because our budget’s broken. We’re going to have to make do with less. And we’ve got to be more creative, more productive, more efficient with the tax dollars we do have. We’ll do it.”
Others are not so sure.
“In past years, one of the things that’s happened is that amounts proposed aren’t enough to get through a year,” said Ann Ford, executive director of Illinois Network of Center for Independent Living. “And previous (legislatures have) worked to pass a supplemental budget to increase the line item to do what they need to make it through the year.”
Home Services helps people, up to age 60, with physical disabilities get personal assistants so they can stay in their homes instead of living in a nursing home.
With the proposed budget cut, Ford believes many will have no other choice than to live in a nursing home.
"Anyone who can’t get in the program because they either changed eligibility requirements, or closed the program, don’t usually have a way to get an assistant, so they end up in nursing homes," Ford said. “It’s a problem for them because who wants to give up their freedom? It costs the state more money.”
Statistics put out by the Home Services program show the average nursing home cost is $70,000 a year, but the program costs for one person is under $38,000, which would save the state about $32,000 per person, annually.
There are about 30,000 people being assisted this year, and Ford said the numbers are unpredictable year to year.
A person wishing to join the assistance program must take a test called the Determination of Need test, which asks several questions regarding how much help a person needs. The more dependent on other people the person is, the higher that person’s score is. A 29 is the lowest qualifier for service, and Rauner wants to change that number to 37. That would hurt people like Cathy Contarino.
Contarino is executive director of the IMPACT Center for Independent Living, a part of Home Services based in Alton that serves six counties. She said she’s suffered from muscular dystrophy since youth and has used a Home Services assistant for 15-20 years.
Contarino said although her assistant helps her get ready for work, along with other daily tasks, her test score is much closer to 29 than 37.
Contarino attributes her longevity with IMPACT, her only job ever, to Home Services. “I have been working and paying taxes for 28 years; without my personal assistant, that probably would not be possible,” she said
People older than 60 can be grandfathered into Home Services, but if the score line moves to 37, a lot of those older than 60 would lose their help if they have a lower test score.
Ford uses personal help, but her age restricts her from using Home Services, although her employer takes care of the assistance costs. She found her assistant, Tanya Caves, through the program's list. Caves has assisted clients through Home Services for about 15 years.
“I’ve had different clients. I’ve had people that solely depend on me as far as eating, getting their mail, going grocery shopping,” Caves said. “Just the everyday things other people take for granted.”
Being an assistant is Caves’ only job, which helps keep her off other assistance programs. She was shocked the governor wants to change the test score to 37, and she believes everyone’s hours will be effected.
The state pays for only a certain amount of hours per client to use a personal assistant based on his or her score. So people will get less help, and workers will have a smaller paycheck.
Department of Human Services officials said they will serve their customers despite the budget cut.
"The proposed budget makes changes to the Home Services program that modify eligibility based on determination of need and limits services to individuals with physical disabilities. We have taken great effort to preserve core services to meet the needs of our customers.”