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SPRINGFIELD — Shannon Davidson enjoys the freedom of living alone in her Alton apartment, after she stayed in two different nursing homes outside the city.

By Diane Lee

SPRINGFIELD — Shannon Davidson enjoys the freedom of living alone in her Alton apartment, after she stayed in two different nursing homes outside the city.

“I used to say ‘I missed doing laundry,’ because I hadn’t done it in four years when I was in the nursing home,” said the 37-year-old, who relies on personal assistants for help with daily tasks. She uses a wheelchair, because her legs were amputated above the knees as a result of spina bifida, a birth defect affecting the spinal cord.

However, she may lose this assistance, if Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget cuts of about $412 million to human service providers becomes a reality.

Anticipating the funding reductions in fiscal year 2012, human service providers are looking toward other funding sources and making internal cuts to maintain their services for low-income families, and those who are elderly and disabled.

Quinn’s proposed budget reduces funding by 36 percent, or $1.6 million, to the state’s 23 Centers for Independent Living, which provide services to those who are disabled, including Davidson, to help them live at home. The program received $6.6 million in fiscal year 2011. The House and Senate restored funding in their final drafts.

IMPACT Center for Independent Living, which serves people with disabilities in the Metro East region, receives 94 percent in state funding of its $950,000 total annual budget and makes up the difference with United Way assistance, donations and annual fundraisers, said executive director Cathy Contarino.

“I mean we recognize we have to diversify,” she said. “But the challenge is in these tough economic times, even foundations have cut down on how much they are giving.”

Gerald Dodds, 72, can’t afford his medication without assistance from Illinois Cares Rx program, which saved the Frederick man at least $18,000 a year on insulin medication to help treat his diabetes.

“I understand that if you don’t have enough money you can’t pay everybody,” he said. “The thing of it is, if they stop that, then what are they going to do if I go to the doctor and say ‘You know I can’t take care of myself anymore,’ and end up living in the nursing home? And then it is going to cost them a whole lot more than this medicine costs.”

Quinn’s proposed budget zeros out the Illinois Cares Rx program to save the state $107 million and the Circuit Breaker program to save $24.2 million, both of which help seniors and people with disabilities. The former fills in the financial gaps left by the Medicare program, while the latter provides property tax grants, license plate discounts and prescription drug assistance.

The House’s final draft restored the Circuit Breaker program, but the Senate did not. Both chambers restored funding to Illinois Cares Rx at 50 percent.

Senior Services Associates Inc. provides more than 26,000 seniors in Kane, Kendall and McHenry counties with information and assistance to apply for programs like Illinois Cares Rx, said Bonnie Schradel, associate director of southern region.

“We’re going to have to be very creative, and find different agencies and providers that will be willing to donate gift cards for medications, so we can help our seniors,” Schradel said. “But that is going to be a very limited pool of money.”

In addition to the nearly 33 percent in state funding it receives toward its more than $4.7 million total annual budget, Senior Services Associates Inc. collects money from businesses, local governments and charities like United Way, said executive director Bette Schoenholtz, who handles finances.

Without state funding, the nonprofit is expecting to reduce office supplies and housekeeping positions as well as seek emergency funding from local governments, Schoenholtz said.

For some crisis nurseries, state funding cuts may mean staff layoffs and a reduction in service hours.
Quinn’s proposed budget zeros out crisis nurseries funding by $318,700. The state cut $106,200 from crisis nurseries in fiscal year 2011. Both chambers restored $100,000 to crisis nurseries in their final budget drafts.

Children’s Home + Aid provides services like crisis nurseries for low-income families who need emergency shelter for their children. For its more than $47 million total annual budget, the nonprofit receives state funding of about 70 percent, as well as donations, and corporate and foundation support, said Eileen Liezert, who is northern region’s vice president.

“I don’t know where exactly we would go to, to try to get additional funding,” she said. “And there are these six crisis nurseries across the state, which are pretty much in the same boat where they are needing to raise a good deal of their program monies from private sources. It is not like it is readily available out there for us to go back, because they have been asked repeatedly for funding.”

But independent organizations, like United Way, are limited as well, said David Barber, executive director of United Way of Greater McHenry County.

“We can’t raise enough money to cover the shortfall from the state,” he said.

The organization partners with 26 agencies in McHenry County, including Senior Services Associates Inc., which received $42,480 for fiscal year 2011. Barber said every agency is seeking more money, which is becoming more challenging.

“For some of the agencies, it is a Catch-22, because the state is reducing their funding or delaying funding on some of the services that they provide,” he said. “Then in turn, the agencies come to the United Way or do their own independent fundraising. And in an economy that we currently have, it is very difficult to do.”

Children’s Home + Aid is conserving money by reusing the back sides of printed papers, for example, but small cost savings aren’t enough to help run a crisis nursery, Liezert said.

“If the state were to pull out all of its funding for crisis nurseries, I can’t see how crisis nurseries could survive,” she said.

Machesney Park resident Rachel Brown said she relies on MotherHouse Crisis Nursery in Rockford to watch her 3-year-old son Colin, because she doesn’t have family nearby to help her.

“When he is there, I have a peace of mind knowing that he is being well-cared for,” she said. “If MotherHouse wasn’t here, I don’t know what I would do. They are a true godsend.”

In the end, Quinn’s plan may not be the state’s final 2012 spending plan, but a combination of House and Senate budgets. Final funding reductions to human services won’t be known until sometime in June, after the budget is approved.

Illinois is forced to reduce spending to cope with its financial problems, said Kelly Kraft, spokeswoman for Quinn’s Office of Management and Budget. Illinois owes $4.5 billion in unpaid bills, which could grow to $8 billion by July, according to state Comptroller’s Office.

“Right now, we have a fiscal challenge,” Kraft said. “There is not enough money to go around for every single program. The tough decisions have to be made.”

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