Meals on Wheels' state money gets moving, slowly

  • Deb Conroy

    Deb Conroy

 
By Mary Hansen
mhansen@dailyherald.com
Posted1/16/2016 7:40 AM

The DuPage Senior Citizens Council announced in December that its Meals on Wheels program would become another casualty of the Illinois budget stalemate, cutting its home deliveries by three days per week as the agency waited for state money to start arriving.

Then, it did. The group got a check later in December and money is available for January because of a September court ruling that the state needed to keep paying for the program for certain low-income seniors. In November, Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration decided the state would pay for the whole program under the court order, and the money went out. But the payments are not enough to get the meal program back to full capacity, says Marylin Krolak, executive director of the DuPage Senior Citizen Council.

 

"If (the state) were to release a couple of more payments to catch up, then I could consider opening up and serving more days per week," Krolak said.

State budget confusion is likely to continue as Rauner and Democratic lawmakers remain at odds over spending, often leaving court decisions and federal decrees to determine who gets paid. Despite those orders and Rauner's signature on an education spending plan, universities, colleges, mental health providers and others remain largely unpaid by Illinois since July 1.

Rauner said this week in an interview with The Associated Press that stopping or slowing court-ordered payments would "be a big part of our plan going forward." But without specifics, it's unclear how he'd do that and what affect changes would have on programs.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Deb Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, introduced legislation that would give the Meals on Wheels program $11 million, and a dozen other Democrats signed on. State Sen. Tom Cullerton, also a Villa Park Democrat, says he would sponsor a similar plan in the Senate.

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"That amount of money is personal, and it goes to vulnerable people," Conroy said. "We represent these people, and we're responsible for representing the proper way."

But Rauner's office says her plan is unnecessary because of the court order, and the governor has pushed back against further attempts to spend state money outside of a complete budget deal.

"Instead of proposing a bill for something that is already being paid, we would urge Rep. Conroy to work with the members of her caucus to pass structural reforms that will help free up resources to help our most vulnerable communities and pass a balanced budget," Catherine Kelly, a Rauner spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

Still, advocates such as Lucia Jones, executive director of the Northeast Agency on Aging, say even if some money is moving now, the delay has taken its toll.

"If this were month two or three, (this bill) would fix the problem just like that," said Jones. "We are in month seven now. A lot of things have been done, letting staff go or terminating leases, that can't be undone now."

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