Katie Stuart holds town hall on senior services, state budget
The state program that provides some seniors with home caregivers is safe — for now, but State Rep. Katie Stuart told seniors it still needs to be protected in upcoming budget talks.
Stuart, D-Edwardsville, had a town hall meeting Monday with seniors at the Main Street Community Center in Edwardsville to discuss the Community Care Program, a state-funded program to provide in-home assistance to seniors. It’s a step short of home nursing care, with caregivers who do laundry, cook meals, provide transportation to the grocery store and appointments, but aren’t medical providers.
Stuart hosted representatives from some home-care providers, the AARP and others to discuss the proposal to remove non-Medicaid seniors from the CCP and enroll them in the proposed Community Reinvestment Program, which would outsource their care to private providers. AARP lobbied against the change, alleging it would increase costs and drive seniors into nursing homes earlier.
Stuart said she thinks the Community Care Program is a “wonderful program” that serves as an umbrella for seniors who want to live independently but need a little bit of help. “I like the idea that in the Community Care Program, the caregiver would drive them to their appointment, walk them in and sit there with them, then drive them home” she said. “Under (CRP), they would have to call an Uber.”
The change would affect 36,000 non-Medicaid seniors, but Stuart said she was concerned that higher costs would result when seniors end up going into nursing homes early, then when the families have exhausted their savings, they will end up on Medicaid after all.
Lori Hendren, assistant state director for AARP, said the program change did not go through the regular legislative process due to anticipated resistance. In a letter AARP wrote to the Illinois Department of Aging, they allege that the state has not had town halls or educational sessions or mailed notifications to impacted families. There have been two public hearings, one in Springfield and one in downtown Chicago, which AARP says is not sufficient.
The letter alleges that the CRP program will replace daily services with optional assistance like adding bathroom handrails, gym memberships or codes for free Uber rides, calling them “unproven, inadequate and inappropriate replacements for one-on-one homemaker or adult day services.”
It means someone is going to their house, and you know when things look right or when they don’t.
State Rep. Katie Stuart
At the moment, the program is safe, Hendren said; half its money comes from the state and the federal government provides matching money. But that’s only in the current, newly-passed budget, she said; there is no guarantee for future years.
“This is a conversation that has been held behind closed doors,” Hendren said. “Everyone heard about the budget… but on this, you have to ask the questions.”
Hendren said this is not an optional program for the seniors who use it; it’s what allows them to stay in their homes and communities longer.
“It means someone is going to their house, and you know when things look right or when they don’t,” Stuart said.
Stuart also answered questions about the new income tax, the budget and pensions. Stuart said the property tax reform bill she supports would have increased the homestead exemptions for homeowners and increase the senior freeze exemption from an income level of $55,000 to $65,000. That bill was approved by the House, but is awaiting action in the Senate, she said. “It will be a top priority,” she said. “It had all stakeholders at the table, trying to find what will actually save dollars for families.”
While some seniors expressed frustration with the new income tax levels, others said they would not object to taxing their retirement income, which is currently untaxed. Still others expressed support for pension reform, or for going to a progressive income tax where higher incomes would be taxed at a higher rate.
One thing on which everyone agreed, including Stuart: Passing the budget doesn’t mean all the state’s problems are over. Now the legislature will resume appropriations and determining how the new budget priorities will be set according to their spending plan - and sticking to that spending plan, she said.
“Now the real work begins,” Stuart said. “I’m going through it for the first time, so I imagine there will be some spirited debate and differences of opinion. But I’d like to hope that we’re all going at this from the same point of view of trying to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and trying to maintain the programs and the things that are important to the people in our districts.”
The town hall was part of Stuart’s ongoing series; next is a senior fraud prevention seminar at for 11 a.m. July 28, at the Collinsville Senior Citizen Center.