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Illinois

Caregiving Services in Jeopardy

State caregiving money could be cut

Beverly Rogers poses for a portrait at her home in Country Club Hills, Ill. on Oct. 16, 2012 - Caregiving

Possible cuts in state and federal programs could make it harder for caregivers such as Beverly Rogers, 70, whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease, to continue providing care at home. — Peter Hoffman

Since Beverly Rogers' husband, Amos, 82, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease 11 years ago, she has been able — and more than willing — to care for him in their Country Club Hills home.

See also: Caregiving Resource Center

She needs help, though, and she gets it, thanks to state and federal funding for caregiver services.

Amos and Beverly Rogers are clients of Catholic Charities' South Suburban Senior Services, a caregiver resource center supported by state and federal grants. Those grants pay for a homemaker who visits each day to help Amos get out of bed, bathed and dressed.

"He is magnificent," Beverly, 70, said of the homemaker, who also sits with Amos on weekends so she can run errands and attend church.

The grants also allow Amos to attend an adult day care center on weekdays for five hours. Caregiver services would also pay for five nights in a nursing home for Amos, if Beverly ever had to leave town to visit relatives or on business.

$17 billion in unpaid services

Beverly Rogers is one of 1.5 million family caregivers in Illinois who collectively donate an estimated $17 billion a year in unpaid caregiving services. State funding, by contrast, totals about $16 million a year, meaning caregivers donate more than $1,000 in services for every dollar of state funding.

November is National Family Caregivers Month. It comes at a time when a state budget deficit and a crisis-mode federal budget are jeopardizing that $16 million in funding.

The state's pension plan for public workers is underfunded, tempting legislators to cut spending wherever they can. "It puts pressure on the rest of the budget," said David Vinkler, AARP Illinois associate state director for advocacy and outreach.

The state's planned move next year to a managed-care system for caregiver services raises the bar to qualify for these services. This move may disqualify some families that currently receive them because it is based on a family's financial and physical resources to provide in-home care.

If families lose the funding that provides homemaker services and respite care, "their options will diminish," Vinkler said. They may no longer be able to provide in-home care.

Cutting the budget is a myopic solution, he said. Nursing home care — the only last-ditch alternative for many at-home caregivers — costs the state about $130 a day, or $3,900 a month, per patient. The cost of in-home care, by contrast, is about $28 daily. "You're talking about removing a $28-a-day cost and supplanting it with a $130-a-day cost," Vinkler said.

Specter of sequestration

The second factor that could affect caregiver services in Illinois is the threat of federal sequestration.

Federal funding for caregiver services, including meal delivery, information, education and legal help, totals more than $43 million a year, according to the Illinois Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Sequestration, across-the-board funding cuts that loom if Congress fails to act by the end of the year, could mean cuts as deep as 10 percent for senior centers, home-delivered meals and caregiver support, said Michael O'Donnell, executive director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

Budget cuts have already sliced into services, including home meal delivery, O'Donnell said. "We have reached the point where we can't do more with less anymore."

AARP Illinois is looking for advocacy volunteers to lobby the state legislature to help prevent budget cuts affecting caregiver services. "There will be pressure to cut these programs, and we have to sustain them — it's the right thing to do," Vinkler said.

Lisa Bertagnoli is a freelance writer living in Chicago.

Also of interest: Find the right care for a loved one.

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