From Illinois Business Journal news services
ALTON — Senior Services Plus says the state budget impasse has forced it to cut operational costs and limit community support across Madison and St. Clair counties, including the reduction of the number of Meals On Wheels deliveries, the complete elimination of Older Adult-funded transportation in the Alton area, and reduction of staff hours and positions.
Low-income and at-risk seniors rely on Meals On Wheels for 33 percent of their daily nutrition. Due to the budget crisis, 40 percent fewer seniors will be receiving meals, and those who do receive only four meals will be delivered once per week.
Having received notification of funding reductions on Dec. 29 from Age Smart Community Resources, Senior Services Plus reluctantly reduces services in response to nearly 200 days without a budget and being owed over $1.5 million from the State of Illinois.
“This reduction in Meals On Wheels for seniors is quite simply criminal. We are putting the most vulnerable and medically frail seniors in our communities at risk and no one seems to care,” said SSP Executive Director Jonathan Becker.
The true cost of a daily Meal On Wheel is $8, with $3.92 per meal funded from the State of Illinois through Age Smart Community Resources. Recipients of Meals On Wheels are asked to make a donation, with the average senior being able to contribute just 69 cents.
Becker has said that reliable meals are critical for seniors and are a proven technique for keeping people in their own homes, avoiding costly institutional care. The average cost of a nursing home is $150 per day for seniors on Medicaid.
The elimination of transportation for older adults will adversely affect low-income people’s ability to access healthcare and other community resources. Most seniors who use transportation services do not have family or other help and are therefore at risk of further isolation.
“These are seniors who have worked their entire lives, paid taxes, built our communities and now in their time of need we are leaving them out in the cold,” he said.
Two nutrition staff are part of the current elimination, in addition to three drivers in late summer. In total, five staff positions have been eliminated or cut back.
Senior Services Plus is working to develop other revenue streams to avoid the financial problems that have lingered in the State of Illinois for years, though felt most painfully in 2015. These efforts include an innovative hydroponic greenhouse system for organic food production. It also includes a 16,500-square-foot expansion of SSP’s flagship program, the Wellness Center.
The Wellness Center provides a variety of health and wellness opportunities. A capital campaign is underway to fulfill the expansion and, once completed, will provide financial resources to cover the costs of mission-driven services like Meals On Wheels.
“The Pathway to Wellness campaign will not only create new standards in the field of aging, the revenues generated, through an expanded Wellness Center, will allow us to continue to provide vital services as we brace for a 30 percent increase in people over age 55 in our communities. That is why this is so heartbreaking about the current financial crisis – it’s like the State of Illinois is sticking it to the very organizations trying hardest to help those most vulnerable, aging seniors. Until somebody takes a stand to stop the madness, it’s only going to get worse for this growing population of people.” said Becker.
Senior Services Plus is located at 2603 N. Rodgers Ave. in Alton. The 43-year-old agency serves Madison, St. Clair, Macoupin, Marion, Jersey, and Clinton counties. The non-profit, 501 (C) (3) United Way-supported agency was established to help enrich the lives of older adults through programs and services that encourage independent living. Services include: Home Care, Meals On Wheels, transportation, Healthy Connections, Wellness Center, information and assistance, Foster Grandparents, travel, events and activities, School House Grill and congregate dining and medical monitoring.