DECATUR - More than two dozen seniors and advocates from local social service agencies gathered Thursday at the Decatur-Macon County Senior Center to protest the cuts to senior services in Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget.
The budget calls for the elimination of the Circuit Breaker and Illinois Cares Rx programs, which assist low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Among the benefits of the programs are access to transportation and help paying for prescription drugs and property taxes.
"What I want to do is put a personal face on what this is," said Deb Groendal, executive director of Mid-Illinois Senior Services Inc.
Groendal said people too often think of issues in terms of dollars and not the lives that will be affected by potential changes.
"This isn't just a program," she said. "These are real dollars that affect real people, real individuals."
She and other representatives from area agencies shared some personal stories of clients relying on the Illinois Cares Rx and Circuit Breaker programs to stay healthy, happy and independent.
"Please don't balance the budget on the backs of low-income seniors," Groendal said, adding that some who rely on the programs could face hospitalization, life in a nursing home or even death without them.
She shared part of a letter she wrote to Quinn, including some possible alternatives to cutting the programs completely - part of her "tweak it, don't take it" approach.
Groendal and Nancy Funk, a member of AARP's state lobby team, said that if those relying on the programs can no longer stay in their homes as a result of the cuts, the cost of caring for them in nursing homes would be much higher for the state.
Leslie Stanberry executive director of the Decatur-Macon County Senior Center said the center and other agencies that exist to help area seniors will continue to serve as many needs as possible.
Stanberry estimated that a partnership formed among the center, Macon County Health Department and CHELP has helped approximately 1,000 area seniors apply for Circuit Breaker since October.
"This program just isn't affecting seniors themselves," said Stanberry. "It's affecting your families."
Senior center client Delores Spelbring expressed concern over what the proposed cuts would mean for her. Emily Dobson, program manager at Soyland Access to Independent Living, discussed some of the potential impacts on those with disabilities.
East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging executive director Mike O'Donnell discussed the scope of the proposed cuts, weighing the possible savings to the state against the tens of thousands of area seniors who would be left without needed assistance.
CHELP executive director Diane Drew urged area seniors to contact Quinn and their state legislators to express their feelings about cutting the programs.