Cutting the meals for the disabled(http://www.southtownstar.com/news/kadner/1813521,100809kadner.article)
October 8, 2009
BY PHIL KADNER
So you want government to cut the fat, tighten its belt and fire all those do-nothing patronage employees.
You want the government to spend tax dollars as you would.
Well, here's what happens when the cuts begin.
Illinois, facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, is going to cap and cut services provided to disabled people by state-funded personal assistants, who make make about $10 an hour. They help disabled people go to the bathroom, wash their clothes, make their meals, shower, get dressed and make visits to the doctor's office.
From now on, they will be allowed to provide meal preparation only 30 hours a month because, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, most people don't eat three prepared meals each day.
That's a lifestyle choice, the state claims. And the state is no longer going to accommodate the high-flying lifestyles of disabled people who want three home-cooked meals a day.
"Buying a microwave may reduce need for assist with meal preparation," contends a Power Point presentation prepared by the state for home-service providers.
And if someone in a wheelchair can't reach a microwave, well, maybe they can use a grabber.
That's the solution suggested by the state for doing laundry.
"Buying a grabber may reduce need for assist with laundry," government officials contend.
Assistance with money management matters will be capped at 3 hours a month, laundry at 12 hours a month, housework will be limited to 17 hours a month and assistance outside the home (for shopping, etc.) will be capped at 18 hours per month.
Is this what you had in mind when you said the state should tighten its belt?
On Wednesday, as a training seminar for employees of the Illinois Department of Human Services was taking place inside a Holiday Inn near Midway Airport, disabled people in wheelchairs protested outside.
Susan Aarup, 40, who lives near Midway Airport, told me what the cuts and caps will mean to her.
"It means when I have to go to the bathroom, I won't be able to," said Aarup, who was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair.
That's not just an inconvenience, it could be a health hazard.
Aarup and others in the home-services programs will be allowed to appeal the caps based on personal need.
Right now, she said, personal assistants spend about nine hours a day with her. She lives alone.
"What the state is going to eventually do is force many of us into nursing homes," Aarup said, voicing a concern shared by many of the protesters. "That means we will no longer be productive taxpaying citizens, but it also means that the people of this state will be paying 20 times more to keep us in nursing homes. It doesn't make sense."
Michael Ervin, another protester in a wheelchair, noted that while the state will hear appeals for special cases, many of those individuals don't have the means to fight for their rights.
"There are people with cognitive disorders or speech disorders, who just can't verbalize their needs," Ervin said. "'There are other members of our community who just don't have the energy or the personality to fight against the bureaucracy. And why should we always have to fight for every right to live like a human being? It's not right."
The state provides personal assistants to about 35,000 people statewide, so I wondered just how much money Illinois would save by capping the hours of personal assistants.
I called two different media relations people paid by the state but couldn't get an answer to that question. I was told the state reviewed the services and decided some were excessive and unnecessary.
Maybe this is what you expected if you're a resident who opposed a state income tax hike.
Maybe that's what you wanted when you asked Gov. Pat Quinn to cut the waste in the state budget.
But I don't think the majority of Illinois residents wanted cuts imposed on the people who help others get in and out of bed.
I think they thought the fat cats, the do-nothing nephews of politicians, the management types with bloated salaries, would get the heave-ho.
Instead, college students are losing their state grants; treatment programs for the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug abusers are being cut; and the disabled are being told to find a way to wipe their rear ends.
You can blame the politicians for that. But in a democracy, we the people are ultimately responsible for government decisions.
We're doing this. And if you don't like what's happening, you should let the governor know about it.
Carrying signs reading, "We've asked and asked - must we beg" and "Home Services=Dignity," the protesters rolled along a sidewalk near Cicero Avenue on Wednesday as motorists honked their horns in support.
Some hotel employees threatened to call the police and eventually did. The Bedford Park police wisely sat in their squad cars and allowed the protesters to chant, "No cuts, no caps" until they left.
Too bad they didn't throw the disabled folks in jail. Maybe then people would care.