Susan Kohler - February 20, 2013
Area Agency on Aging
CEO, Missoula Aging Services
Feb. 20, 2013
Good evening. Iím Susan Kohler, CEO of Missoula Aging Services; the Area Agency on Aging for Missoula and Ravalli Counties. Tonight I want to again share my concerns about the looming sequestration deadline of March 1st. Although several deadlines have come and gone, the March 1st deadline is unlikely to be extended if no action is taken. Sequestration means wide scale cuts in discretionary services and the military will happen. In my opinion, such across the board cuts are an irresponsible way for Congress to deal with the problem of reducing deficits. To illustrate my point, let me tell you how programs which provide cost effective safety nets for older Americans will be impacted.
Should sequestration occur, Montana will lose roughly $545,000 in federal Older Americans Act funds, and an additional $288,000 from the Corporation for National and Community Services in Senior Corps funding. The funds which will be cut, totaling $833,000, are critical for the survival of senior programs and services which help promote independence, dignity and health of older adults and the people who care for them.
Among services these dollars provide across the state are Senior Nutrition programs, including Meals On Wheels and the group dining experiences older adults often attend in Senior Centers. Good nutrition, a check-in for homebound seniors, overall health promotion and prevention of social isolation are all addressed by nutrition programs.
The funds also provide safeguards for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities by ensuring their rights are not violated. They provide services like bathing, dressing, companionship and house cleaning, which allow many older adults to stay in their own homes longer. The money helps fund respite and caregiver support for family and friends who care for older adults, at home, with various forms of dementia. It provides the opportunity for older adults to volunteer in our communities and continue to contribute to society. Resource centers for people to find out about all the services available to best meet their needs come under this funding. Finally, this money leverages additional state, local, client and donor support. Should this main base of funding for senior services be greatly reduced by sequestration, it will severely weaken the entire funding infrastructure.
Hereís something else to consider: Thirty-four percent of Montanaís population 55 years of age and older live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a single person thatís income of $22, 340 a year or less; for two people, $30,260 a year. It is not a lot of money when you consider the basic cost of living, yet in partnership with subsidies many people can get the help they need to age in place.
Sequestration will erode the foundation of support for community services which so many older Montana adults and their families need. If it occurs, this loss in funding will be compounded because our stateís population of older adults is due to increase rapidly in the next 15 to 20 years. This is not a time to cut funding for these cost effective services!
Perhaps as troubling to me, the effects of sequestration on this stateís funding to support programs and services for older adults seem to fit within a disturbing global theme of minimizing the importance of our elders. Because this population is living longer and growing by the day, there are those who view the elderly as an unnecessary drain on a country's finances, and suggest they should "hurry up and die" to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care.
Could our Congress be saying the same thing by cutting vital services that support people as they age? Why would our society look at our older adults as a problem, a drain on society?
Most of the older adults I have had the pleasure of working with have rich, long histories that include working hard, raising families, being personally responsible, helping build their communities and paying their taxes. To view them as a major reason why our country has a deficit problem and cut back the services which help provide a quality of life in a cost effective manner is just plain wrong. We need to tell our congressman to stop the impact of sequestration--not only on our older adults but for all the safety net programs that provide cost effective assistance. Congress needs to come up with a more responsible solution than across the board cuts which will hurt our most vulnerable citizens.
This is Susan Kohler, CEO of Missoula Aging Services and as always, thanks for listening.