By Laura Bennetts and Julie Sargent
Warning: Today, older Kansans are on the verge of being abandoned by the majority of policymakers in Topeka. Fifty thousand fewer meals will be served to seniors. The programs that enable the most vulnerable of our elderly citizens to remain living in their homes are now on the verge of devastating cuts to staff and funding. Older Kansans with frail health who have relied on these programs for a few hours of help per week to bathe, prepare meals or balance a checkbook will suddenly be without support. Those on the waiting list for these programs will be out of options.
Research shows that without these services — which are often needed only temporarily — many will have to move out of the homes where they raised their children, and move into nursing facilities.
The Douglas County Coalition on Aging (DCCOA) favors continuing and expanding these successful and valuable senior services that help Kansans maintain their health and avoid placement in nursing facilities. For many years, the Kansas Legislature and Kansas voters supported these programs because they offer cost-effective assistance to older Kansans with acute needs, by helping them at home.
The services on the cutting block are funded through three sources: the Older Americans Act, Medicaid Frail Elderly Waiver, and Senior Care Act. Only a portion of funding (15-40 percent) for these programs comes from state general funds. These programs are essential to holding down the cost of care for elderly, and without the state’s contribution, the much larger federal contribution for these programs will be lost. Without these programs to help older Kansans live at home — at the cost of $500 to $1,500 a month — it will cost taxpayers an average of $4,000 a month per person for nursing home placement.
Kansas’ network of support for older adults is unique and cannot be quantified in just dollars and cents. This year, 8,000 Americans are turning 65 every single day. This is not the time to cut back on basic services. The professionals and institutions supported by public funding — social workers, case managers, home health aides, volunteers, medical professionals, food pantries, neighbors, city and county workers, senior centers, and families — constitute a wealth of knowledge and caring for our elderly that we cannot afford to leave behind.
Thousands of volunteer and family hours stretch the value of every dollar spent by helping their aging family members, friends, and next door neighbors. The vast network of private and nonprofit service providers and the experienced staff that runs these aging services, coordinates volunteers, and supports family caregivers are a vital resource in Kansas.
DCCOA opposes cuts to these cost-effective services for the most vulnerable older Kansans — our relatives, friends and neighbors. If these services are cut, the needs will still exist. These needs will have to be met by overstressed families who will have few options besides high cost facility care. The state budget should not be balanced by abandoning the programs that provide respect and cost effective support to elderly Kansas citizens and their families.