Theresa Collins, associate executive director of Senior Services Plus, stands in the greenhouse that supplies some of the food for Meals on Wheels deliveries. Photo by Whitney Curtis

By Kelly Ganski

Out on a Meals on Wheels delivery last year in O’Fallon, Theresa Collins knocked on the door of a 74-year-old veteran, a double amputee in a wheelchair.

The man used to receive five hot-meal deliveries a week, but because of state budget delays, the nonprofit Senior Services Plus could make only two deliveries a week. To compensate, they included three frozen meals.

“He told me to just leave them out on the counter because he couldn’t physically pull them out of the freezer to reheat them,” said Collins, 43, a member of AARP Illinois’ Executive Council. “He said he would typically just leave them out until they thawed and then eat them.”

Senior Services Plus in Alton, where Collins is the associate executive director, had to make fewer Meals on Wheels deliveries because of significant payment delays from the state during its two-year budget impasse, she said.

Illinois pays half the cost of every meal. When that money wasn’t coming in, Collins’ organization had to make some hard choices. To avoid cutting the number of meals, it had to lay off staff and reduce the number of days it delivered meals.

It’s one example of how not having a state budget has taken a toll on state agencies, nonprofits and older residents alike. In May, the Illinois General Assembly passed a budget good through June 30, 2019. But the governor and legislature elected Nov. 6 will face important budget choices next year, as the state’s fiscal stability continues to be
in limbo.

“It’s no longer a budget crisis, but it’s still a fiscal crisis,” said Ryan Gruenenfelder, director of advocacy and outreach for AARP Illinois. While he praises the bipartisan nature of the lawmakers’ compromise, Gruenenfelder is worried that they have not tackled any of the crisis’s root causes.

Enough is Enough

“The budget doesn’t address the $7 billion backlog in unpaid bills or the over $1 billion in interest due on those unpaid bills,” Gruenenfelder said. “It also didn’t address the $142 billion in long-term debt.”

AARP Illinois considers the state’s financial woes the most pressing issue and one that affects what older citizens need from their government. That’s why the organization is continuing Enough is Enough, a campaign to make voters aware of the severity of the fiscal crisis and to demand long-term change from lawmakers.

“The Enough is Enough campaign expects gubernatorial candidates to make Illinois’ fiscal crisis their top priority,” Gruenenfelder said. “We want to see a plan to address it—a realistic plan—and the candidates to let voters know how they intend to make it a reality.”

AARP Illinois held voter forums this summer and has more scheduled: in Bloomington, on Tuesday, Sept. 4; Urbana, on Thursday, Sept. 13; and Chicago, on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The public is invited to attend the forums and can also view them afterward at enoughisenough.aarp.org.

AARP Illinois plans to push candidates to make the state’s finances their main focus.

“In my dream world, I open any candidate’s website and the first things I see are proposed solutions to the fiscal crisis,” Gruenenfelder said.

Kelly Ganski is a writer living in Bartlett, IL.