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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Decisive action by Gov. Rauner needed for Illinois' seniors, disabled - opinion by Marca Bristo and Bob Gallo

In the midst of a prolonged budgetary crisis, Gov. Bruce Rauner must make pragmatic decisions for Illinois residents and the future sustainability and success of our state.
 The State Journal-Register | Opinion by Marca Bristo (Access Living) & Bob Gallo (AARP Illinois)
Illinois' largest caregiver programs, the Community Care Program for seniors and the Home Services Program for people with disabilities, provide that necessary pragmatism as they save the state hundreds of millions of dollars while providing independence and choice to the thousands of Illinoisans residents they serve. 
The Legislature recently took an important first step, passing House Bill 2482, which would preserve the current eligibility threshold for the Determination of Need — or DON — score. The DON score is used to ensure that more than 100,000 Illinoisans have access to these caregiver programs. 
In February, Gov. Rauner proposed raising the DON score from 29 to 37 as part of his controversial package of budget cuts, effectively cutting 34,000 individuals from access to these critical programs. On Sept. 1, the General Assembly approved the bipartisan DON protection bill (HB 2482) with supermajority support, and the bill has been sent to Gov. Rauner for his signature. 
It is time for the governor to take swift action and enact this bill into law. At stake are critical services for 24,000 older adults and 10,000 Illinoisans with disabilities — services that include having access to personal caregivers to assist with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, dressing and grocery shopping. These supports allow people with disabilities and senior citizens to live independently in their own homes and communities instead of being forced into premature institutional care. 
Without personal assistants, tens of thousands of people would lose the supports they need to live independently in their own homes, putting them at risk for emergency room visits, hospital visits, eviction and nursing home placement. The human cost will be measured in the segregation and loss of independence consequently suffered by people with disabilities and seniors. For every person forced into a nursing home, Illinois would end up paying $17,000 more per year compared to the costs of personal assistant services. 
The economic bottom line of this issue is not to be neglected. These programs are catalysts for economic growth and prosperity for Illinois statewide, both in terms of savings and employment. But without preserving the current eligibility threshold for the DON score, they may be rendered useless.
The governor should consider the following facts, based on Innovation Illinois' Caregiver Impacts Report, which looked at Fiscal Year 2013 data:
  • * Caregiver programs directly created more than 144,000 caregiver jobs in Illinois and indirectly an additional 66,000 jobs in communities across the state.
  • * The state's caregiver programs brought more than $1.1 billion in federal dollars back to Illinois' taxpayers in FY 2013.
  • * In-home care programs for seniors and people with disabilities save up to $1 billion each year.
  • * Every dollar of General Revenue Fund spending invested in caregiver programs generated an average of $3.74 in economic activity.
As advocacy organizations representing nearly 2 million older and disabled Illinoisans, AARP and Access Living commend the legislators from both sides of the aisle who rose above politics to cast a yes vote for older residents and people with disabilities. Illinois' fiscal health, economy and employment rate would benefit from this legislation. We urge Gov. Rauner to sign House Bill 2482 into law.
— Marca Bristo is president and CEO of Access Living. Bob Gallo is state director of AARP Illinois.


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