SPRINGFIELD — A state program that keeps more than 70,000 low-income seniors out of nursing homes could run out of money by February, advocates for the elderly said Friday.

The potential shortfall, they argue, could force companies that provide in-home care services to close their doors, resulting in seniors either moving into costlier nursing homes or, in some cases, trying to take care of themselves.

“I’m very blunt about this, but that could result in deaths,” said Bob Thieman, executive director of the Illinois Association of Community Care Program Homecare Providers.

The culprit in this case is the state’s massive pile of unpaid bills. Because the state still owes hundreds of millions of dollars to community care providers from the previous fiscal year, Thieman and the AARP predict the $690 million program will run out of cash five months before the current fiscal year ends.

“I don’t know how the state is going to handle it,” Thieman said.

The governor’s budget office could not immediately be reached for comment. But a spokeswoman for the Department on Aging expressed concern about the possible financial lapse.

“It is no surprise that there is a budget crunch,” Kimberly Parker said. “Obviously, we wouldn’t want our vulnerable clients to be placed in such a position.”

Under the program, low-income seniors can receive varying levels of assistance from care workers who go to their homes. Some seniors may need help bathing or cooking, while others need assistance in cleaning their homes or doing grocery shopping.

Supporters say the $800-per-month average price tag is more than three times cheaper than the cost of nursing homes. And it allows elderly Illinoisans to stay in their homes.

The looming shortfall comes as the population of older Americans is on the rise.

“The baby boomers are now coming in droves,” Thieman said.

If the money runs out, some of the larger community care providers could bankroll their operations until the state approves a new budget in July. That would allow the companies to continue operating without affecting seniors who participate in the program.

“The question is how long can they afford to do that,” said David Vinkler, legislative liaison for the Illinois AARP.

Vinkler says the program makes sense for both the state and for seniors.

“If we can save dollars and give people services they want, it’s a win-win,” he said.

Advocates hope the Legislature addresses the problem during the fall veto session, which will get under way in late November.