Tardy Illinois Payments Forces CER to Borrow Funds

Post a Comment » Written on June 4th, 2008     
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OAK FOREST, IL (June 4, 2008) – Covenant Enabling Residences (CER) of Illinois, which operates two homes for developmentally disabled adults, is applying for a $200,000 loan from National Covenant Properties because the State of Illinois is five to six months behind in paying for the residents’ care, says director Julie Smith.

The state payments make up 100 percent of CER’s operating budget, which is a little more than $1 million, Smith says. Twenty-four people with different levels of function live at Bjorklund House and Independence Place, both of which are located in Oak Forest. Independence Place is a community setting for higher functioning clients who require less supervision.

CER frontBecause the state has not paid its bill, many activities that have been a regular part of the residents’ lives will have to be eliminated, Smith says. For example, CER will be unable to pay for residents and staff to attend a special camp for the developmentally disabled at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp and Retreat Center this summer. The accompanying photo was taken during a previous camp experience, as were these additional photos.

Smith says sending the residents and necessary staff to the camp costs $15,000. “If I have to tell my residents we can’t go to camp, I don’t know how I’ll do it,” she lamented.

Other events, including competing in the state Special Olympics, also will have to be eliminated. Some smaller outings around town also might have to be eliminated, Smith added.

Covenant Harbor administrators, who were not aware of CER’s financial situation, today expressed their resolve to make certain that CER residents will be able to attend camp. “We’ll find a way to get them here,” says Eric Anderson, associate director. “This is one of the highlights of the year for them.”

Although the camp gives some scholarships, it doesn’t have money budgeted to pay for so many campers. Anderson says the camp welcomes donations to help with the expenses.

Bjorklund House is one of many organizations serving the disabled that are struggling to pay their bills because the state has not met its obligations. An editorial in the January 15 edition of The Chicago Tribune referred to Illinois as “the deadbeat state.”

Drawn-out infighting among legislators, as well as sparring between the legislature and governor, delayed a budget for months last year and threatens to do so again this year.

“It’s a shame that the State of Illinois makes a deal, and then effectively forgets about that deal,” says Steve Dawson, president of National Covenant Properties. “Bjorklund House and Independence Place have wonderfully provided the services that the state contracted for, and now Bjorklund and Independence find themselves paying interest because the state doesn’t pay (on a schedule) anything close to on time.”

The state’s laxity in making payments is nothing new, but the situation is worse than previous years. “They have always, always, always been three months behind since we opened,” Smith says. In the past year, however, the state has been five to six months behind.

“You can go online and see that they have the check sitting there, but they won’t release it,” Smith complains.

Rising costs have made the financial situation even worse, Smith says. In the current budget, the state did provide an increase in the cost of living allowance (COLA), but it was only two percent – and it was the first adjustment in three years.

To get through shortfalls, the house has dipped into a small fund reserve and occasionally has been forced to delay paychecks to staff, Smith says. The number of staff numbers between 25 and 27 people.

Delayed paychecks would be hard on almost anyone, but even more so on the staff, Smith says. She notes that direct-care staff is paid a beginning wage of only $8.50 an hour – an amount that is dictated by the state. “I couldn’t live on that,” Smith says.

The house also has been able to make it through difficult times because vendors have been willing to work with them as a result of good relationships developed since the residence opened in 1994.

The state pays only for direct care, Smith says. Funds for any other items must come from other sources. Fundraisers earlier this year netted $80,000 for the purchase of three minivans to transport residents for participation in various activities.

Despite the tough economic times, Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, which oversees the enabling residences, still is considering opening another facility in Northbrook, Illinois, says Harold Spooner, vice president of Outreach Ministries. “The need is so great,” he explains.

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