Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Illinois budget cuts to eliminate personal assistant program for IL center

From the Galena Gazette in Illinois:

Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to cut a program serving hundreds of disabled Illinois residents, including nine in Jo Daviess County, has many involved up-in-arms.

Last month, Quinn notified the Northwestern Illinois Center for Independent Living (NICIL) that the state was planning to cut funding to the organization's Personal Assistant Program, serving more than 200 disabled residents across the state. The cuts would remove funding for NICIL to train and refer personal assistants.

"The decisions (the state) is making do not make any sense," Kathy Fischer said.

Fischer is the executive director of NICIL's Rock Falls Center for Independent Living, one of 22 centers in the state that help disabled residents find personal assistants. These personal assistants (PAs) work for a disabled person, helping them live a more independent life by assisting with daily activities. The amount of assistance varies, depending on the individual needs of the disabled individual.

The program is scheduled to be cancelled Sept. 30, after which NICIL will no longer be able to provide PA's for hire, assist in PA management, advocate for more PA hours, assist in obtaining PA services, or offer training for PA's.

"We are worried that people won't know where to turn," Fischer said.

Disabled individuals can still search for and hire assistants on their own, but Fischer worries that without NICIL oversight, some people could be taken advantage of.

"Our program recruits, trains, and maintains a referral list of PA's for the public to draw from," Fischer said. "Technically there is no certificate required for this position, but if people work with us they know that they have had a class and that we can arrange for a background check,"

She said some people don't know how to act as an employer, and that their program helps guide them to trained, responsible individuals who can assist them. She worries that this won't be the case if the program is cut.

"We don't want people coming off the street, claiming they are qualified, and take advantage of people," Fischer said.

The state made the cut to avoid raising taxes, and to save money, but Fischer said the move could have the opposite effect.

"If (the disabled) can't find assistance they are going to be forced into nursing homes, and that costs twice as much as if someone lives independently," Kay Arity, PA program coordinator said.

Arity said keeping just one person in each of the five counties that NICIL serves, the state will save $175,000. If all 236 participants move into nursing homes, the cost could be $8 million to the state.

Arity said an influx of people into nursing homes could hurt much more than the state's pocket book.

"It's about people's independence," Fischer said. "They don't want to go into nursing homes." Fischer said.

Until the Sept. 30 deadline, NICIL is trying to reach out to the community and stress the importance of this program.

"The general public doesn't realize that disability is a blink of an eye away from any of us," Arity said.

Tom Green, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said the decision came down to tough choices.

"As you know, the state of Illinois is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges as we begin Fiscal Year 2010. While all the programs we offer are worthy and important, difficult choices had to be made to make cuts to programs that have the least impact on our customers."

Green said the cuts would not reduce services to customers.

"Most customers are able to find their own PA," Green said.