Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday February 2nd, 2016, 2:44pm

With State Owing Agency $1 Million, Chicago Home Care Service Struggles To Keep Doors Open (UPDATED)

A Chicago-based home care service agency is on the verge of having to cut payroll costs in half for its 250-member workforce as a direct result of the ongoing state budget impasse.

Family Home Service, Inc. provides in-home services to more than 500 seniors and people with disabilities in Chicago.

The state owes the agency, which has been operating on bank credit during the more than seven-monthlong budget impasse, approximately $1 million for services that have been performed since July 1, the start of the current fiscal year.

Family Home Service's Director Marsha Holmes told reporters Tuesday morning that the agency has exhausted its line of credit and cannot obtain another loan. If the current budget situation continues much longer, Family Home Service could be forced to shut down, Holmes said.

"Our elderly and disabled population rely on our workers. They don't want to face uncertainty," Holmes said at Family Home Service's offices, 1040 W. Huron St. "What happens if they have to face uncertainty if our doors happen to close? They have built relationships with their home care workers. That is why a stable workforce is so important in this home care industry."

To avoid a potential shut down of the agency, Holmes said Family Home Service might have to reduce its workers' wages by half sometime this month, at the earliest. The agency's home care workers, represented by SEIU* Healthcare Illinois, earn average hourly wages between $10 and $11.40. Asked whether the agency can legally make such a pay cut, Holmes said the move would represent a last ditch effort to keep operations going during the budget standoff.

"What other option do we have? I need to keep my doors open," she said, adding that "something is better than nothing right now."

Christina Carrion, 26, has worked at Family Home Service for four years and currently earns $10 an hour. She provides home services to two seniors, including a 79-year-old stroke survivor who has limited mobility. Carrion spoke to the uncertainty facing home care workers and their clients during the budget impasse. 

"Besides the fact of ourselves needing to pay bills and rent with the funds given to us, who (is) going to take care of the senior citizens and disabled if we're not around?" she said. "There could be other companies that are still going, but are we all going to get shut down at once? ... We have to think about the seniors and the disabled and the fact that they might not have a chance to have anybody take care of them."

SEIU Healthcare Illinois Vice President Terri Harkin cited Home Care Personal Services in Peoria as at least one home care agency in Illinois that has already shut down due to the budget stalemate. Another provider, Chicago-based Ashley's Quality Care, has been unable to pay its employees for more than three months due to its lack of state funding.

"This is not acceptable," Harkin said. "And the fact is, this is a choice that our governor has made. There is money to pay banks on time, but yet not money to pay home care agencies to provide vital services to seniors. ... That's not right."

State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) attended the press conference.

"To the seniors, to the people with disabilities and to the employees of this agency, many of whom live in my community, I want apologize," Guzzardi said. "I'm here as a member of state government, and state government has failed you. It's an embarrassing situation."

The Illinois budget stalemate revolves around Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to win items on his pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" through the budgeting process. The governor wants reforms such as workers' compensation changes, a property tax freeze and limits on collective bargaining before he will consider new revenues.

Democrats, who have supermajorities in both chambers, want a budget that includes a combination of cuts and new revenue. Democrats say Rauner's agenda items are non-budgetary and oppose the governor's anti-union proposals, saying they would harm middle-class families.

The legislature passed a Democrat-backed budget in May, but Rauner vetoed most of the spending plan, including all higher education appropriations, citing its nearly $4 billion shortfall.

Guzzardi said it is "unacceptable" that Family Home Service and other agencies are struggling to pay their workers a "basic wage" as a result of the budget battle in Springfield. 

At the same time, Guzzardi said, "the state of Illinois is paying of millions of dollars in bank fees to the biggest banks in this state, despite having no legal obligation to do so."

"We're putting the banks in the front of the line," he said, "and we're putting the seniors and the folks who serve them at the back of the line."

Speakers at the event called on Rauner to put his "turnaround agenda" aside in an effort to break the budget stalemate.

Family Home Service "is just one of the organizations in my district that is suffering tremendously as a result of the Bruce Rauner turn down agenda," Van Pelt said. "He calls it a 'turnaround agenda,' but I see it as turn down. Because he's turning down the poor."

Guzzardi said the state needs more revenue to tackle its budget crisis.

"The state does not have enough money ... to pay a wide variety of services. We are billions of dollars short. The only possible solution is bringing in more money. Republicans know that. Democrats know that. The governor knows that. The speaker knows that," Guzzardi said. "The only question, in my mind, is: who do we ask to pay?"

A request for comment in response to Family Home Service's press conference was left with Rauner's office. 

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

UPDATE (3:32 p.m.): Catherine Kelly, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner's office, provided the following statement to Progress Illinois:

Sen. Van Pelt and Rep. Guzzardi know very well that Family Home Services could be fully funded tomorrow if they and Mike Madigan placed a higher priority on Family Home Services than defending the out-of-control, job-killing power of special interests. While Governor Rauner stands ready to pass job-creating legislation and fund Family Home Services, Sen. Van Pelt, Rep. Guzzardi and Mike Madigan want special interests to keep their power at the expense of Family Home Services.


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