Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday January 20th, 2016, 3:24pm

Advocates Push For State Legislation To Protect Home Services Eligibility

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9), state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and other advocates for seniors and people with disabilities sought to rally support Wednesday for proposed state legislation aimed at preventing the governor from making eligibility requirements tougher for home services programs.

Harris is spearheading the bill, HB 4351, in the state legislature.

The measure involves the Determination of Need (DON) score, which sets eligibility for the Home Services Program for people with disabilities and the Community Care Program for low-income seniors. Through the programs, seniors and people with disabilities are connected to personal attendants who can assist them at their homes.

Under Harris' proposal, the minimum eligibility DON score could not be raised above the current figure of 29. Rauner in the past has proposed raising the DON score from 29 to 37 as a means to cut costs. 

"Nearly 40,000 seniors and people with disabilities are estimated to lose their essential home care if the governor were to have his way," Schakowsky said during a press conference at the Thompson Center. "And countless more would be denied (services) in the future. Shame on Governor Rauner."

Harris said HB 4351 seeks to protect home-based services for seniors and people with disabilities. It would also prevent program participants from losing their services when the state eventually shifts from the DON score to a new assessment tool. 

Although the governor dropped his plan to raise the DON score in November, speakers at Wednesday's event said they are worried that the governor could make another attempt to adjust the score in the future.

"It's just wrong, especially in the bitter cold of winter, to have people in fear that they could lose their homes, that they could lose their caregivers," Harris said. "It's wrong to keep seniors and people with disabilities and their families wondering, 'Are they serious this time? Do we get to keep our services? Are they gonna take them away again? Are we just gonna be used as continued pawns in this game?'"

Joining the elected officials at today's press conference were members of Access Living, Citizen Action/Illinois, the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Indiana.

Speakers stressed that raising the DON score would ultimately cost the state more in the long-run.

"The irony is, if you do what the governor wants to do and raise the DON score, it costs the state of Illinois more money," Harris said. "Tens of thousands of people who right now are getting services in the lowest-cost setting are gonna be moved into the highest-cost setting, because that's required by federal law."

Back in September, the Illinois legislature approved legislation, HB 2482, that would keep the DON score at 29. Rauner used his amendatory veto on that bill in early November. He kept the DON score at 29, but included a provision under which qualified program recipients could receive either community- or institution-based care, but not both. The administration said the changes would cut spending on costlier institution-based care.

In exchange for Rauner dropping his plan to increase the DON score from 29 to 37, the General Assembly did not override his amendatory veto of HB 2482, according to the governor's office.

Richard Goldberg, Rauner's deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs, made note of that "compromise" in a letter dated Wednesday. The letter was addressed to Harris in response to his latest proposal regarding the DON score.

"I urge you not to put the future of community-based care and improved outcomes at risk by submitting legislation that is substantially the same as what was already vetoed and sustained," Goldberg wrote. "Based on media reports, I understand you may be attempting to do just that, claiming an urgent need to block a non-existent attempt by the governor to change the DON score."

The letter continued: "If you are under the impression that the governor intends to reverse course and re-submit a request to raise the DON score, you are mistaken. Rather than pushing unnecessary and potentially harmful legislation that will restrict the state's ability to transition from institutional to community-based care, I would urge you to work thoughtfully with the administration on new and innovative ways to improve the quality and efficiency of state programs and services."

Renewed debate over the DON score comes during the seventh month of the state budget impasse.

At today's press conference, Schakowsky railed against Rauner's priorities for the state, including his pro-business, anti-union policy agenda.

"The budget, in fact, could be solved in a day, or even a few hours, if the governor were willing to turn around his 'turnaround agenda.' Medicaid services are not the cause of that problem, and denying services to tens of thousands of needy and deserving people is not the solution," the congresswoman said. "Our priorities should not include cutting adult day care, respite care services, home delivered meals, nursing care in order to afford tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. We should not be holding vulnerable people hostage to a crusade against unions."

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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