Meals on Wheels programs face cuts

State budget deficit means seniors may go hungry

Thursday, June 24, 2010

As DuPage seniors wait for legislators to fix Illinois' budget woes, many of them are going hungry.

The DuPage Senior Citizens Council, which receives 48 percent of its funding from federal and state funds, is still due $420,000 for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The organization provides services to seniors such as home delivered meals (aka Meals on Wheels) as well as community dining programs and wellness checkups.
Delays in payment have forced the council to scale back on the number of seniors served.

"In prior years, we served about 1,000 seniors per day with our home delivered meals program," said Marylin Krolak, executive director of the DuPage Senior Citizens Council. "This year, we've had to establish a cap to make ends meet. We can't serve more than 826 meals per day because of the financial crisis the state situation has caused."

Kelly Kraft, budget spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn's office, said usually the state has until Sept. 30 to pay outstanding bills from the previous fiscal year. But this year things are different.

"We have a backlog of $6 billion in bills," she said. "In mid-May, the General Assembly passed the Emergency Budget Act, which extended the payment lapse period from Sept. 30 to Dec. 31.

"If we don't pay our bills, providers have to go to the Court of Claims. The main benefit of this extension is that providers will not have to go through that process. It gives the state a longer time to get the cash together."

A central Illinois social service agency has decided to scrap a Meals on Wheels demonstration project because of the state government's financial problems.

Michael O'Donnell, executive director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging in Bloomington, says they will stop delivering meals to 188 people on July 1. O'Donnell says the agency decided the program isn't financially viable and couldn't be expanded as intended because of the state's situation.

O'Donnell said 381 people in the Decatur area will still get meals delivered through a Catholic Charities program.
Krolak worries the same will happen here.

"We are really worried about sustaining our agency," she said. "We have written letters to our legislators, asking them to achieve a comprehensive solution to the state budget deficit; a solution that does not cut essential services for senior citizens."

Lucia West Jones, executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging, one of the funding sources for the DuPage Senior Citizens Council, said the situation is dire.

"We are working in a world of uncertainty," she said. "Now the funds may not come until the 31st of December, we just don't know."

The Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging supports eight community organizations surrounding Cook County and, according to West Jones, the agency has only received 27 percent of its funding from the state this year.

"All of the counties in the state had reason to believe they would get a set amount of money from the state," she says.

In March, the agency told its beneficiaries to plan for a payout of just 50 percent of what was promised from the state.

"As time went on, agencies ... had to make a call," she says. "We've had to modify our expectations. We didn't want to let our grantees continue incurring liabilities."

Illinois state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, says he voted against the state budget and does not agree with how state dollars are being spent.

"State employees are getting a 4 percent salary increase over the next three years during a recession, and we are not paying groups like Meals on Wheels," he says. "Governor Quinn's priorities are flat out wrong."

Dillard said, "It is a sad situation," but predicts, "Money should be forthcoming sometime in the upcoming several months."