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Oak Forest group home wants state to pay debt

VeronicPerez (left) wipes face resident Jeanett Young Bjorklund House home for developmentally disabled Oak Forest Illinois Monday January 28 2013.

Veronica Perez (left) wipes the face of resident Jeanett Young at Bjorklund House, a home for developmentally disabled, in Oak Forest, Illinois, Monday, January 28, 2013. The state of Illinois owes the facility more than $400,000 with no payment in sight. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:06AM



The folks at the Bjorklund House in Oak Forest are hoping the squeaky wheel again gets the grease.

The wheel is director Julie Smith. The grease is the nearly $600,000 the state of Illinois owes the group home that serves developmentally disabled adults.

In December, Smith issued a news release about the state owing $753,000, which drew an immediate response in the form of a check from the state for about $450,000. But that only covered the debt amassed through July. Now, Smith wants the money owed to the group home from July through January.

That comes to $490,164 in resident care and $87,899 to pay for day treatment for 16 residents, most of whom have day jobs outside the group home at 15841 Terrace Drive. Another eight residents live in a nearby apartment building.

“The question is not only how do we function (without the money), but how do the clients function?” Smith said. “We function because of the Covenant Ministries of Benevolence. They’ve been helping us pay the bills. They try to help all of us. But when it got to the point of almost a year, they asked, ‘When are you going to get paid?’ ”

The board of directors talked about taking a bus caravan to Springfield to seek what they’re owed by the state. Instead, Smith sent out the news release in December. And, presto, the squeaky wheel got some grease.

“Now we’re at seven months (overdue) again,” she said.

“I haven’t had to lay off any employees,” she said of the 30 workers. “Without them, we can’t offer services.”

Employees are on duty 24/7, she said, because the tenants need around-the-clock care.

Resident Brandon Gonzalez, 26, gave a thumbs-up when asked if he liked living there.

Another, Kelly Lindsey, said, “I want to live here because I like it.”

Smith said the state’s failure to pay in a timely fashion is akin to “taking money away from the most underserved clients. I mean, these are the most vulnerable people we have in Illinois.”

The departments of public aid and human services are responsible for the payments, she said.

Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said in an email: “Currently, there is approximately $288,000 in pending payments from DHS for Covenant Enabling Residences of Illinois at the Comptroller’s office. This situation is not unique, as the state has more than $8 billion in unpaid bills. Many providers wait months for payment. Without pension reform, unfortunately, the issue will only get worse.”

Julie Smith said other group homes are in a similar dilemma.

“We can’t keep going on like this,” Smith said. “They have to pay the bills. That’s why I wrote the press release.”

Nearly everything in the group home — including floors, kitchen counter tops, curtains carpeting and a bus — was bought with money from fundraisers, Smith said.

“Why does the state think we have to beg them for the money they owe us?” Smith said.



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