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Mentally ill still waiting for promised hike in allowance

Chicago Sun Times

Tuesday, November 14, 2017  |  Article  |  Mark Brown

Mental Health (64)

Advocates for developmentally disabled and mentally ill residents of state-licensed facilities fought for years to win an increase in the small monthly stipend those individuals are allowed to keep for their personal needs.

 

They appeared to have prevailed in July with approval of a new state budget and an income tax increase to help pay for it.

 

Legislators set the new “personal needs allowance” at $60 a month, up from $50 for some individuals and $30 for others.

 

But more than four months later, some of the would-be recipients say they still aren’t receiving the modest increases owed them and haven’t received a good explanation for why not.

 

The failure to pay the increase appears to be affecting only residents of nursing homes that care for the mentally ill, not the developmentally disabled, according to the advocates.

 

Organizers with the community group ONE NorthSide say they have identified at least three long-term care facilities for mentally ill individuals in Chicago where residents say they are still waiting for their raise.

 

One of those is The Clayton Residential Home in Lincoln Park, where resident Larry Bender Jr. said administrators have put the blame on the state.

 

Bender said residents of The Clayton received the extra $30 in September, but not in October or November. And he said they are still looking for a retroactive increase for July and August.

 

The personal needs allowance is intended to be exactly that — the amount of money that individuals residing in certain state licensed facilities are allowed to keep from their Social Security disability checks — of about $735 monthly — to spend on their personal needs. The rest of that money goes directly to pay for their care.

 

Bender, 46, who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, said he needs the extra $30 to buy clothing or occasionally something to eat beyond the nursing home’s daily fare.

 

“Some nice bacon, scrambled eggs . . . a hamburger,” Bender told me wishfully, before mentioning personal hygiene products like soap, deodorant and toothpaste.

 

The personal needs allowance is basically the only money these folks get to spend in a month, said Sam Wickham, a community leader for ONE Northside’s mental health justice team.

 

“You need a birthday card, it comes out of that money,” she said.

 

Wickham, who suffers from severe depression and PTSD herself, said she has never lived in a nursing home-type setting but has been told by friends that the low personal needs allowance was one reason many of them turn to panhandling.

 

“It was dehumanizing to them,” Wickham said.

 

I could not get a return call from The Clayton, which I’m told is a decent enough place, so I don’t know where the fault lies.

 

More than 400 mentally ill individuals live at the three facilities that haven’t paid the increased allowance. Three other facilities surveyed by ONE Northside are paying the new higher amount.

 

The affected facilities are called Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities, which is only worth mentioning because of the acronym, SMHRF, which is pronounced “smurfs” by those in the field.

 

In an August 29 memo, the Illinois Department of Human Services Director Felicia Norwood notified all the service providers for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, including the smurfs, that the increase to $60 was effective July 1.

 

Advocates say they are concerned there appears to be no clear plan for facilities to come up with the back pay.

 

I realize that the developmentally disabled recipients of this allowance are generally a much more sympathetic group to the public than those suffering from mental illness. When I first went to bat on this subject, it was for their benefit.

 

But the mentally ill folks in these facilities have some seriously debilitating issues of their own, and they’ve waited long enough.