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Mitchell: Budget impasse shredding state's safety net

Frankie Redditt is president and CEO of Ashley's Quality Care Inc. in Chicago. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

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Signage in the reception area of Ashley’s Quality Care Inc. headquarters in Bridgeport lets visitors know they are entering a unique space.

“God Did It!” the words proclaim.

The fully renovated building at 610 W. Root is a visible testament to the power of faith.

Frankie Redditt, the agency’s founder, candidly admits it was God’s nudging that pushed her from a comfortable perch in the social service field in 1991 into opening a home-care agency that now employs about 1,000 people and serves thousands of seniors.

But today Redditt is concerned about the damage the budget impasse is doing to the home-care industry in Illinois.

“This is the worst I have ever seen it, and I have been here 24 years,” Redditt said. “They have shut down. The homemakers don’t understand. They have done their jobs.”

She estimates the state owes her about $2 million for services already provided under contracts with the Illinois Department of Aging.

OPINION

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Most homemakers make less than $11 an hour, which means their finances were already tight. The homemakers have had to borrow from family and friends just to buy food and to pay rent.

Barbara S. Harris, 63, has worked with Ashley’s Quality Care as a homemaker since 2008. Her husband is on a medical disability, and that has contributed to the couple’s financial bind. Harris earns $10.50 an hour and works four hours a day.

“The past three months has been very much a struggle. I had to borrow $651.71 for my health insurance because I need my insurance,” she said told me. “My bills are behind. I have to call and try to make arrangements about when I can pay, and then I have to call back and make new arrangements.”

“We need to get a bus and ride down to Springfield and sit on the steps and say ‘You are hurting us. We are totally destitute,’” she said

Homemakers clean, cook and shop for the elderly. Sometimes they are called upon to bathe and groom seniors. Most of all, the presence of these workers let the elderly know they are not alone.

Juana Cervantes, 50, said she is still going to work but is behind on all of her bills and rent.

“I keep borrowing here and there and wherever I can,” Cervantes said, laying the blame on Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“The governor is cutting the funds and taking from the poor,” she said.

The Illinois Department of Aging said the last payment to Ashley Quality Care for fiscal year 2015 was made Aug. 7, 2015.

“Due to the budget impasse, all payments for FY16 are on hold,” spokeswoman Alissandra Calderon said in an email.

About 100 homemakers have fled Ashley’s to join larger agencies that have contracts in other states.

“[The agencies] are putting out fliers and coming over here to recruit our workers, “ Redditt said.

“Without money, it’s difficult. But you look at the people that are still here. I have not lost a staff member. That is when you know God is behind you 100 percent,” she said.

I don’t know how the governor and state legislators sleep at night knowing their hard-hearted decisions are having this kind of ripple effect.

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