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Federal cuts to take away meals for Illinois seniors

Andy Laterza’s heart functions at only 15 percent. The 81-year-old Chicagoan’s reliance on home-delivered foods is much greater that his wife’s, who also suffers from congestive heart failure.

Because of the federal sequester, the Laterzas could see their weekend meals taken away, leaving them fending for themselves.

“My husband’s not doing so good,” said Ann Laterza. “I don’t know what we are going to do without weekend meals. I really don’t know.”

Their three children live either out of state or in the suburbs, so they can’t help much, she says.

The federal sequester is expected to cut $764,000 from Illinois’ budget for meals for seniors. The Senior Assistance Center, which provides meals for the Laterzas and about 130 others, still doesn’t know how much of its, $301,155 budget will have to be cut.

“We don’t know if the amount we were granted by AgeOptions this year will be cut,” said Carole Creason, executive director of the Senior Assistance Center in Norridge.

In addition to federal grants, the center also receives funding from private donors, the municipalities it serve, foundation grants and when possible, a small payment from the clients.

AgeOptions – the social service agency that provides funding to Senior Assistance Center and other southern Cook County organizations- is expected to see 20 percent of its $3.2 million budget cut, forcing it to reduce funds to agencies that provide second and weekend meals to seniors, said Jon Lavin, president and CEO of AgeOptions.

The cuts haven’t kicked in yet, but when they do, AgeOptions is expected to lose $91,171 for home-delivered meals, according to information provided by the agency.

Carol Mattar, public relations specialist at AgeOptions, said the amount of cuts are still unknown.

“We’re waiting for official news about funding levels from the [Illinois] Department on Aging,” said Mattar. “We don’t know yet when we will hear.”

The Illinois Department on Aging could not be reached for comment. However, a replacement manager said the agency does not have a timeframe.

“We don’t have any date yet,” said Milly Santiago, communications manager for the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal. “We’re still working with legislators.”

In an email statement from the Illinois Department on Aging, provided by Milliy Santiago, it states, “At this time, the Illinois Department on Aging has not been formally informed by the federal Administration for Community Living (formerly Administration on Aging) about the actual amount of reductions.”

The agency is waiting for Congress to finalize a twelve-month budget for the federal agencies.

The impact of the federal regulations is expected to gradually occur within coming months as local agencies and programs adjust their budgets, before the new federal fiscal year.

The Laterzas, who have been getting meals for five months, expect to lose their weekend meals. Years ago, Andy Laterza lost his janitorial job at Bethel Community Church, and the family has lived in poverty ever since.

Earlier this month, Andy Laterza was taken to the emergency room because of heart complications, leaving his wife home alone.

Arlene Newhouse, the home-delivered meals coordinator at Senior Assistance Center, said the Laterzas, especially Andy, require the agency’s help.

“He’s at the hospital quite regularly,” said Newhouse. “Many of my people need help, but this one in particular. They really depend on us.”

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