Responding to Community Needs With $5.6 Million in CARES Act Funds

AgeOptions has received $5.6 million through the CARES Act, which we are using to address the needs and challenges – food, social isolation, mental health, legal assistance and more – faced by older adults and people with disabilities as a result of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on older adults, people of color and low-income communities,” Diane Slezak, AgeOptions CEO, said. “That impact is not only on physical health, but also mental health – fear of catching the virus, isolation as we’ve been quarantined, access to food at congregate dining sites, loss of jobs, fear of evictions, loss of inperson community and more. We’re thrilled to have these funds to address their needs, not only as a result of the pandemic but of the economic downturn as well. We want to make sure every older adult who needs help has a way of finding it. We’re not just relying on traditional ways of reaching people and providing services.”

The funds are provided through the largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history. The CARES Act includes components to address the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulate the economy, including funding for aging services.

AgeOptions’ goal is to use a person-centered/community-centered approach and target dollars to individuals and communities most affected by the coronavirus – older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers, especially socially isolated older adults, elders of color and low income communities. In order to make sure we truly understand the needs of the communities we serve, we conducted listening sessions with people who have direct contact with affected individuals.

In general, we will use CARES Act funding to address:

  • Economic and housing stability
  • Community health, health disparities and mental health
  • Social isolation/tech divide
  • Economic and housing stability
  • Food

AgeOptions staff across our programs are working together to provide services holistically since many older adults, caregivers and people with disabilities have been affected in multiple ways by the pandemic.

Here are some of the l ways in which AgeOptions and our partners are using CARES Act funding:

Food and Nutrition

  • A sizable amount of CARES Act funding goes to nutrition programs. AgeOptions and our partner agencies have provided more than a million meals to older adults since the pandemic shutdown began on March 16.

Social Isolation/Tech Divide

  • We are partnering with approximately 30 libraries across suburban Cook County to address the related concerns of social isolation and the tech divide.
  • We are working with Uniper, a company that provides tech devices that make it possible for individuals to use any television, computer, tablet or smartphone to connect with taped and live, interactive daily activities – like an online senior center.
  • The 21 Memory Cafes are meeting virtually and providing community gathering places for older adults with memory concerns and their care partners to help combat isolation.
  • We are directing CARES Act funds to our five Caring Together, Living Better partners and five new churches that will conduct outreach to older adults, caregivers and people with disabilities in their communities to ensure their needs are being met and help combat social isolation

Community Health, Health Disparities and Mental Health

  • We have expanded mental health services, making it possible for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety to be referred for free counseling with a licensed clinical social worker, and enhanced support to agencies so they can assist individuals holistically.
  • We are continuing respite care and gap filling funds for caregivers. Preserving economic and housing stability
  • Funds are directed to the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CEDL) so it can increase its scope and response, making it possible for more people to receive the support and assistance they need to remain in their homes.
  • Legal Aid Chicago is offering enhanced support to grandparents and other older adults raising children.

CARES Act funding lasts until September 30, 2021. It was directed to AgeOptions and the other Illinois Areas on Aging from the Administration on Community Living through the Illinois Department on Aging.

Posted on September 1, 2020

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