CHICAGO—A state bill to raise the inadequate stipend for nursing home residents would help more people with mental illnesses achieve their full potential by moving out of nursing homes and living successfully on their own.
Disability benefits for people with mental illnesses living in nursing homes mostly go toward paying those facilities. The residents receive only $30 a month of those benefits, which is not enough to cover the things they need.
House Bill 4989 would raise the stipend from $30 to $50.
Nursing home placement is an important option for those younger adults with mental illnesses who need higher levels of care. But many people who don’t need that level of care find themselves trapped in nursing homes anyway by their own poverty. They simply cannot afford the steps needed to build new, self-sufficient lives for themselves in homes of their own, said Fred Friedman, Next Steps head organizer.
“We cannot buy a transit pass to look for work, a place to live or outside help,” said Friedman, a former nursing home resident. “We cannot buy clothes suitable for a job interview. We cannot save for a security deposit for an apartment of our own.”
More than 40 states provide a stipend of $50 a month, and many states pay $75 or more. The Illinois $30 personal needs allowance has remained unchanged for years, despite inflation.
“This sum is inadequate to let us lead a humane life,” Friedman said.
Next Steps urges mental health advocates to support HB4989. See the Next Steps lawmaker lookup page for tips on contacting legislators.
Friedman, a leading Illinois advocate for consumers of mental health services, is in recovery from mental illness. Friedman, who has also lived in a homeless shelter and psychiatric hospital, moved out of a nursing home years ago with help from family and a social service agency.
“Most of us are not as lucky,” Friedman said. “Many of us remain warehoused for what seems like forever, and gradually lose the will to recover.”
The costs of the higher stipends are tiny compared to the amount of taxpayer money wasted by unnecessarily housing younger adults in nursing homes. Thousands of those people could live on their own with more cost-effective community mental health services at less expense to taxpayers. Illinois relies more heavily than any other state on nursing homes to house mental health consumers/survivors.
A state Nursing Home report in January called for more housing and treatment to help people with mental illnesses leave nursing homes. In June 2009, the state Taxpayer Action Board report said reducing institutional care such as nursing homes for a wide variety of needs would save Illinois hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.