News that Friday would be the last day that elderly people could come to the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center for meals and other programs isn’t sitting well with those who take advantage of the services.
Due to the state’s budget stalemate, the center on Friday halted its transportation and meal programs, including Meals on Wheels.
A number of state-funded programs have been cutting services due to the budget impasse. Democrat legislators have proposed a budget that overspends revenue by about $4 billion. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is demanding spending reforms and other reforms.
To 94-year-old East St. Louis resident Ophelia Williams, that makes no sense. She said she wants to be able to get up as she normally does and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, go to the Jordan Center to play bingo with her friends.
“I have been coming here for a long long time. I hate it that it’s closing. We need this place. I like coming here. The people here are nice. We help each other,” Williams said.
She added, “I want them to stop arguing and release the money that we need to go about our lives normally. We have fun here, and I don’t know what I will do without the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center.”
Oliver Hamilton, the township supervisor, said, “Our grant is federal and state. It has already been approved, but it’s being held up. We hope the governor will release the money. We may have to close our doors.”
He said the meals the seniors receive from the center will be stopped, too.
Hamilton said plans are underway to reach out to local businesses for help. Asked if Friday was a sad day for East St. Louis, Hamilton said, “It’s more than sad.”
Stanley McDougler, 59, has been volunteering at the center for two years. He said something else needs to be done other than bringing hardship to the people who can least afford it.
“It’s terrible. It’s stopping the senior center from helping the elderly folk,” McDougler said.
A large crowd of seniors was inside of the building Thursday morning celebrating a birthday. They were engaged in song. Some of them got personal recognitions. It was a popcorn day for them, too.
Ed Officer, director of the Jordan Center, said, “Without this center, the seniors will lose a lot, They come here to play bingo, fellowship, do aerobics, have birthday parties, repassess for people who bury their loved ones.”
He said the center provides breakfast and lunch and delivers home meals five times a week.
“We have six different routes. We prepare $80,000 in meals a month,” Officer said.
He said officials at the center are always thinking of things to do to make the seniors enjoy their time there.
“We were planning a movie and virgin daiquiri event for them. They love us, and we love them. It’s like a big, happy family here,” Officer said.
Most of the clients who receive home-delivered meals cannot provide for themselves. “We provide their nutrition. Most of them are 60 and over, and a lot of them are 70-plus,” Officer said.
He added, “We’re talking about our senior population. Our clients are all needy. We are not talking about a healthy, lazy person who just doesn’t want to work.”
He said the center still will be used as a cooling site. He wants the center to continue to be the place “that seniors rely on to play bingo, play cards, eat breakfast and lunch. We do not want the doors to close. The seniors deserve whatever we can provide here for them.”
Joy Paeth, the CEO of AgeSmart, said four senior citizen centers will be closing Monday: Waterloo, Red Bud, Columbia, and Chester.
Paeth also said there are 500,0000 older adults and seniors in the state of Illinois. About 40,000 of them live in the seven counties in the metro-east, she said, and there are roughly 350 local homebound seniors who are dependent on the Meals on Wheels program. “They can’t cook,” she said.
She said she was caught by surprise when she learned that AgeSmart would not be getting money to keep the senior programs as they were. She knew that some agencies were not getting funded or had their money cut, but until July 24, when she received an email from the acting director of the Area on Aging that said no money could be appropriated without a budget for fiscal year 2016, she was told that everything would go on as it had.
Had she known this a lot sooner, Paeth said, “We would’ve planned a little better. We would’ve been a lot more conservative and put some contingency plans in place.”
Paeth, who is also president of the Illinois Area on aging Agency, described to a reporter how the funding process works, “We receive funding from the federal government and they go through the department of aging.”
She is also concerned that the workers who have been working for the agency will look for employment elsewhere because they have to eat and pay bills, and no one knows how long the stalemate in Springfield will go on.
“Only a third of our network will be left in September. We do not know how long this will go on,” Paeth said. “This is a serious situation.”
State budget issues are affecting other organizations that serve as distribution points for other meals on wheels programs as well.
Meals on Wheels delivery from the Collinsville Township Senior Citizen Center have been cut back to two days a week from five, according to Al Artimisi, director of the center.
Artimisi said Senior Services Plus is still able to provide five days worth of meals, but seniors in the program receive a hot meal and a frozen meal on Tuesdays, and a hot meal and two frozen meals on Thursdays.
The Cahokia Nutrition Center learned its funding to deliver meals to about 40 to 45 seniors or people who are fully disabled five days a week would be cut to $1,200, said Brenda Green, the center’s director.
There is no state funding planned for the 10 to 20 meals served a day at the nutrition center, Green added.
“It’s very sad. It breaks my heart and some of the home delivery people are not able to get out of their bed. I don’t know what it would do to them,” Green said. “There’s a lot of need out there that will go unfunded.”
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503. Reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this article.