ROCKFORD — For many who had worked at Malcolm Eaton Enterprises in Freeport, it felt like getting laid off. The training center and workplace for developmentally disabled adults no longer can take on clients from Frances House, operator of several Rockford-area group homes, because the state of Illinois is so far behind in promised payments.
Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in the Deadbeat Illinois series, where reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state's failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we'll share the stories of those affected. See more on the Deadbeat Illinois Facebook page.
ROCKFORD — For many who had worked at Malcolm Eaton Enterprises in Freeport, it felt like getting laid off.
Malcolm Eaton, a training center and workplace for developmentally disabled adults, no longer can take on clients from Frances House, operator of several Rockford-area group homes, because the state of Illinois is so far behind in promised payments.
Frances House had sent clients to Malcolm Eaton for more than two years. There, the roughly 60 adults, mostly in their 40s and 50s, would complete small jobs and developmental training programs based on their abilities.
But with the state behind on the bills, Frances House doesn’t have the cash flow to continue the program, and now administrators and families are scrambling to find someplace else for clients to spend their days.
It’s frustrating for families who can do little but watch, said Betsy Pierce, whose brother and sister live in Frances House group homes in Rockford and Rockton.
“We know we can’t do anything about it. Parents can’t do anything about it,” Pierce said. “You can scream and holler, jump up and down, write your congressman or senator, make phone calls, but it’s not getting the bills paid.”
As of October, the state owed Malcolm Eaton $1.1 million, according to the center’s newsletter.
Malcolm Eaton officials confirmed that the state was behind in payments but declined to comment for this story. Frances House administrators also declined to comment.
For those who attend, the program is more than a place to learn or work. It also provides structure to their day, Pierce said.
Pierce’s brother and sister, Tom and Sandra Catron, have a genetic disorder called trisomy 7q.
“They would get up every day, eat breakfast and go to work,” Pierce said. “They’d work their five hours and come home, but now they can’t. Frances House is trying to find some kind of curriculum and activities to set up for them — something for them to do outside the house for one or two days a week.”
Gina Boettcher, whose sister, Patti Merlo, lives at a Frances House group home, said it’s difficult to explain the change to her sister.
“She doesn’t understand why she can’t go to work,” Boettcher said. “This is no reflection on Malcolm Eaton — they’ve done as much as they can for as long as they can — it’s really just sad.”
Malcolm Eaton offers a range of developmental training programs, from learning how to write your name or make change from a dollar to training for assembly, packaging and clerical work.
Some Frances House families feel at the mercy of the state, and fear that the group home won’t be able to find new daily programs until the state catches up on its bills, if it ever does.
“At this point, without being able to pay a bill, it’s impossible to negotiate a new program,” Pierce said. “Nobody wants to take on somebody who they know isn’t going to be able to pay for seven or eight months.”
Greg Stanley: 815-987-1369; email@example.com; @greggstanley
By the numbers
$7,012,127,655.55 General fund payments backlogged as of March 10.
202,150 Total vouchers delayed
Source: Illinois comptroller
Note: Includes vouchers and transfers to other state funds