As their health begins to decline, senior citizens often face the difficult choice of whether to spend the rest of their days in a nursing home bed or burden family members with the task of providing day to day assistance.

Representatives from Forest Park’s Progress Center for Independent Living, 7521 Madison St., feel that many of these seniors are entitled to a third option, and are taking their fight for increased home-care funding to Springfield.

Currently, only those seniors with assets of $12,500 or less (not including their home and car) qualify for the Illinois Community Care Program, which was established in 1979 to assist those who might otherwise need nursing home care to receive care at home.

“One of our big issues is to get more equity. The services that seniors get in own home is far less than what people with disabilities get,” said Progress Center Program Director John Jansa.

According to Jansa, while people with disabilities under age 60 are eligible to receive up to 11 hours of home assistance per day through the state Department of Human Resources Home Services Program, seniors are currently limited to 20 hours a week, and are eligible only for “homemaker” services rather than more intensive medical treatment.

Martha Cooper, an advocate with the Progress Center’s Home Again program, geared toward boosting funding for home-care for both the elderly and disabled and reintegrating former nursing home patients into their communities, attended a rally in support of the cause in Springfield on March 2. Cooper and others also rallied in support of providing health insurance benefits for home-care workers, a cause that State Rep. Karen Yarbrough has supported in the past. A bill she sponsored in an attempt to resolve the issue was referred to the House Rules Committee in early 2005.

“If they don’t have insurance, what happens is if they get ill you’ve got a problem, they’re taking care of someone and then they need someone taking care of them,” said Yarbrough.

Cooper said that the $12,500 cap to qualify for the Community Care Program was last raised in 1979, and she feels it is long overdue for another increase. Though her target is $20,000, she realizes this won’t be nearly enough. Still, she said, compromise is necessary when dealing with the powerful nursing home lobby.

“Of course, we would love to have more…it’s kind of a no-brainer when you think about it, as people are getting older they’re going to need more care,” she said. “(But) it’s a very difficult fortress we’re coming up against.”

Also participating in the rally were representatives from SEIU Local 880, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Metro Seniors in Action, and advocates from the Illinois network of Centers for Independent Living.

At a second rally on March 27, Cooper, Jansa, and about 200 advocates from the statewide network of Centers for Independent Living pushed for the revival of the Olmstead Implementation Act.

The bill, which was proposed last year by State Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-19) but did not pass, would allow seniors who have lived at nursing homes to receive the same amount of Medicaid funding for their treatment should they decide to return home.

“People don’t need to be (in nursing homes), people don’t want to be there, and once you’re there it can really propagate in a person a sense of neediness and a need to be taken care of,” said Cooper.

Jansa said that advocates would also urge legislators to increase state funding for the Centers for Independent Living from about $6 million to $18 million.