Facing a 14 percent cut in funding for social services to senior citizens and the disabled, local care agencies put current and would-be lawmakers on the hot seat Thursday night.
About a dozen state and county political candidates fielded questions from Kane County social service agencies at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. The agencies believe a recent decision by state lawmakers to move Medicaid and Medicare services under the control of insurance companies by 2015 will place profit margins above community-based care for seniors and the disabled. There are about 24,000 senior citizens and people with disabilities in Kane County who use those social services.
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A chapel room filled with caregivers and patients asked the panel how they will improve funding for the services they said they need. Not only that, but they wanted to hear solutions to how to cut waiting lists for services and waiting times for state payments.
Several candidates told the audience they didn't know the answers to those questions. Others provided a series of difficult answers. And 39 area politicians invited to the forum didn't show up.
Cary Collins provided the most direct answer to social service funding woes.
"The state of Illinois is flat out of money," he said.
Collins is the Republican looking to unseat Democrat Mike Noland in the 22nd State Senate race. He voiced a theme echoed in various ways by several Republicans at the forum.
Collins said the key is to bring more money into the system by putting people back to work and bringing new business into the state. He pushed for a cut in the state income tax to lure that new business and suggested the amount of jobs that would create would still result in more income tax flowing into state coffers and social service agencies.
Fellow Republicans T.R. Smith and Karen McConnaughay both pushed for a true elimination of fraud, or at least perceived fraud, from the Medicaid system. McConnaughay is a candidate for state Senate District 33. Smith is a Kane County Board member up for re-election.
"I think this is the elephant in the room," Smith said. "There is so much fraud and abuse going on in these programs that there will not be enough money to allow these programs to continue unless something is done about it."
Democrats largely took a different approach to addressing the social service concerns. It was centered more on pledging not to cut money from the agencies putting the needs of seniors and the disabled at the top of funding lists as money becomes available.
Kane County Board candidate Jesse Vazquez pushed for the creation of a countywide government organization to pool funds and address mental health and disability needs.
Fellow Democrat and county board candidate Martha Hanna said the county board never should have cut its health department in half and transferred the social service caseload to the private sector. Hanna believes those private companies are overburdened and understaffed.
"That is not part of my value system," she said. "I do not want residents of Kane County to have to wait even longer to get services from outside the county."
Hanna also supports a pending plan to bring a substance abuse treatment facility to the former Glenwood Academy property.
"It's something we need in our community," Hanna said. "Some residents are leery of a facility so close to their homes. People need to stop being scared. We need more funding for mental health and disabilities, not less."