Senior centers to reopen Monday

With the signing of legislation by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner that allows the state to release more than $5 billion in federal money that had been held up due to the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield, Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council senior center sites in Waterloo, Columbia, Red Bud and Chester will reopen Monday morning.

The senior centers and Western Egyptian’s Meals on Wheels delivery service to homebound residents suspended operations earlier this month due to a lack of funding.

The majority of funding for senior centers comes from the Federal Older Americans Act, but this money first goes to the state. As Illinois lawmakers remain at an impasse on a fiscal year 2016 budget, these and other funds were being held up. Senate Bill 2042, which was approved Wednesday by the Illinois Senate on a vote of 42-0, calls for the federal pass-through of more than $5 billion in funding that supports senior centers as well as food and child care programs.

“We’re excited,” Waterloo senior center director Kim Elizalde said. “We’ll be back to normal on Monday and hopefully here to stay for a awhile.”

The Waterloo senior center, located at 207 West Fourth Street, is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week. The Columbia site, located inside City Hall, is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Waterloo senior center has been serving the community since 1976, when it started at St. Paul United Church of Christ. It currently averages about 45 meals per day (30 home deliveries, 15 dine-ins). In addition to cooking its own meals, the Waterloo site also cooks daily lunches for the Columbia and Red Bud senior centers — about 180 meals per day total.

The House of Neighborly Service in Monroe County — an organization of church and community leaders aiming to provide assistance to those in need — came to the aid of local senior citizens by organizing a volunteer effort to provide meals during this temporary senior center closure.

Another local service that had fallen victim to the state budget standoff, Monroe Randolph Transit District, remains out of service despite federal funding pass-through bill approval.

“Our federal funds are matched with state funds,” MRTD Director Jesica Gentry said. “We need both to operate.”

 Illinois has gone 50 days without a spending plan since the fiscal year started July 1. Rauner, the state’s first Republican governor in 12 years, and the Democrat-led legislature can’t agree on how to fix a $6.2 billion deficit.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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