DuPage senior meal program could come back, for now

Meals at community centers for about 1,000 low-income senior citizens in DuPage County that were cut in the face of the state budget stalemate could resume as early as May, says DuPage Senior Citizens Council Director Marylin Krolak.

But Krolak fears cuts could happen again later this year.

"I'm already worried (about) what will happen in the fall. And will we have a repeat of this next fall when there is a possibly of not having a budget?" she told state lawmakers in Chicago this week.

The organization started receiving state and federal money for nutrition services for seniors in January because of a court order, but at about a 30 percent reduction from what the legislature approved last spring.

Krolak was not alone in her concern about the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers and representatives from other senior service organizations in Chicago and the suburbs also raised questions about the governor's proposal to change in-home care for seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid.

Weighing the costs of caring for a growing aging population, Gov. Bruce Rauner introduced a plan he says would be more cost-effective in preventing seniors from moving into expensive nursing homes paid for by the state.

But the plan would reduce the amount of money available to 43,000 seniors who have low assets, but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid, for services such as in-home help with laundry and meal preparation or rides to doctor's appointments. The governor's budget analysis projects $400 would be available per person under his plan, down from $869 per person that was given in fiscal 2015.

The Department on Aging says it's possible to provide the same level of services by being more efficient with the money, for example hiring a laundry service or using Uber for transportation.

But Ryan Gruenenfelder, manager for advocacy and outreach with AARP Illinois, says the reductions mean some seniors would be left without in-home care.

"They'll give them what they can and hope that that person is able to stay in their homes. Well, hope is a pretty weak thing to rely on," Gruenenfelder said.

AARP supports a measure that would keep the in-home care services as they currently are and make it harder to change the program without legislative approval. The measure was approved by the Illinois House last week and could be considered in Senate in the coming months.

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