Senior citizens face major service cuts

Friday, July 09, 2010

Almost 2,000 fewer meals will be served each month to senior citizens in Sangamon and Menard counties, and transportation services to seniors will be cut in half as part of $55,000 in cuts scheduled to take effect Monday.

Previous budget cuts made by Springfield-based Senior Services of Central Illinois last year didn’t directly affect programs for seniors, executive director Karen Schainker said Thursday. But the backlog of payments the state owes Senior Services, which currently stands at almost $400,000, made additional cuts unavoidable, she said.

Schainker’s board has endorsed a state income tax increase to help resolve the state’s fiscal crisis, but she said she is frustrated with state officials’ inability to act.

“They may need to find seniors dead in their homes,” she said. “These are essential services.”

Senior Services, 701 W. Mason St., operates with a $2.2 million annual budget. The agency is mostly funded by state and federal dollars to provide programs in Sangamon, Menard, Logan and Mason counties.

Employees have gone without pay increases the past two years and have taken on more responsibility in the wake of layoffs at the not-for-profit agency, Schainker said, adding that recent reports of hefty pay raises for members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff made her feel “immediate anger.”

“It’s all politics, and I need to stay away from that,” she said.

Tax levy for seniors?

Because of what is becoming a chronic cash-flow problem when it comes to state funding, Schainker said officials from her agency have begun “preliminary discussions” with Sangamon County Board staff members about the possibility of creating a special countywide property tax for senior services.

Such a tax would require passage of a referendum and a county board vote placing the measure on the ballot, she said.

“We’re just in the talking stage,” she said.

Sangamon County administrator Brian McFadden said convincing the board to approve such a referendum would be a “very, very difficult uphill battle.”

Senior Services officials have begun to inform seniors of cuts in the Daily Bread nutrition program and transportation program.

Noontime meals delivered to the homes of shut-ins and provided at 12 congregate sites up to five days a week in Sangamon and Menard counties will be offered one less day each week.

Daily Bread has been serving 10,500 meals each month. That total will be reduced by almost 2,000 meals through at least Sept. 30, said Amy White, Daily Bread director.

The program will save about $20,000 through pay cuts — several site managers are taking unpaid furlough days — and reduced food costs, White said.

About 475 seniors receive the meals, which carry a suggested donation of $3 per meal but can be provided at no charge.

About two-thirds of the seniors are so frail that the meals are delivered to their homes. For many of these seniors, the hot food may be the only meal they eat each day, White said.

“Some of these seniors will go hungry,” she said. “This is so sad. This is kind of the last straw holding some of them at home. This cut could result in some of them moving to a nursing home.”

City trips only

The cuts in senior transportation, designed to save $35,000 through Sept. 30, will reduce the number of hours driven in Sangamon County from more than 140 per week to 60, program director Kate Downing said.

The agency currently transports 30 to 40 people each day to and from doctor’s appointments, dialysis centers, grocery stores, meal sites, hairdressers and social events. The suggested donation is $3 for each round trip, but no one is turned away for inability to pay, Downing said.

The cuts — which include one furlough day a week for Downing, one layoff and drastic reductions in work hours for several drivers — will mean that rides will be mainly confined to the city of Springfield, she said.

Afternoon trips will be all but eliminated, she added.

Seniors served by the program — many of whom aren’t able to drive — are upset about the cut, Downing said.

“It’s sent a lot of our clients into a tailspin,” she said. “There’s a huge amount of need. Even on our best day, we can’t serve all the need.”

Previous Senior Services cuts

*$1 million budget cut over the past year.

*One unpaid furlough day per month for every employee.

* 23 positions eliminated (including at least 17 layoffs), almost one-third of staff, since July 2009.

*No pay increases for past two years.