BOSTON – At a time when many older people in Massachusetts are struggling to pay their grocery bills, the Fiscal Cliff automatic cuts — -if implemented January 2nd — would result in a loss of more than a quarter of a million meals for the elderly.
The senior rights group Mass Home Care says that if Congress and the President fail to prevent sequestration, one of the consequences will be a $108 million cut nationally to the federal Older Americans Act (OAA), which pays for meals on wheels, legal aid, family caregivers, and senior center programs.
Mass Home Care represents the 23 Area Agencies on Aging In Massachusetts which receive the federal support. The group says that based on 2012 appropriations, a total of $2.56 million in Older American Act funding will be lost in Massachusetts as a result of an automatic 8.2% cut in funding. The state currently gets $31.28 million for the OAA programs.
Al Norman, the Executive Director of Mass Home Care, said sequestration will trigger the following cuts in the Commonwealth:
•$801,982 cut to congregate mealsites across the state
•$377,125 cut to meals on wheels cuts\
•$400,595 cuts to other Nutrition funding
•$673,146 cut to legal aid, senior centers & other supports
•$38,020 cut in prevention services
•$274,627 cut to Family Caregivers
The total nutrition cuts of $1.579 million translates into a loss of 252,752 meals this year alone. “A sequester means seniors currently receiving home-delivered meals five days a week may be reduced to three days a week,” Norman estimated. “Seniors will lose rides to doctor’s appointments, assistance with their medications, access to home health and personal care Services.”
The January 2 sequestration mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) will cut 8.2 percent from FY 2013 non-defense discretionary (NDD) funds like the Older Americans Act (OAA).
A total of $54.5 billion in NDD cuts will have to be made in FY 2013, Mass Home Care said. .”Any ‘saving’ from the sequester would pale in comparison to the costs resulting in premature nursing home placement for seniors,” Norman explained. “These cuts would also place greater financial strains on family caregivers and drive higher medical costs due to elders’ poorer nutrition and health, increased falls, and other avoidable crises.”
OAA funding allows local agencies to provide a wide range of supportive services to seniors. On the national level, sequestration will result in:
• 1.9 million senior transportation rides to medical appointments, grocery shopping and other primary needs will be lost.
• 290,000 older adults will no longer receive the case management that coordinates care essential to remaining at home.
• 1.2 million older adults will lose access to the homemaker services that help them with basic daily housekeeping needs such as cooking or laundry.
• Another 1.5 million people will lose personal care services such as in-home assistance with bathing, toileting and dressing.
• Three-quarters of a million individuals in adult day care programs would lose access to the health care, socialization and nutrition they rely upon.
• 75,000 seniors will lose access to OAA legal services, just as elder abuse and fraud is on the rise.
In addition, Norman said, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be reduced by $285 million, forcing 290,000 senior households to go without heating aid. Sequestration could cut off heating to 290,000 senior households.
Sequestration would cut $32 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, which means that 114,000 households would receive reduced unit maintenance and supportive services crucial to remaining in the community.
“When at-risk seniors don’t get the help they need to remain in their homes,’ Norman said, “the next option they face is going to a nursing home. Home care costs about one-third as much as nursing home care on average. Middle class seniors end up spending down their resources and going on Medicaid, which is paid for with federal and state dollars.”
“Congress must do whatever it takes to avoid the sequester,” Norman concluded. “An automatic and thoughtless hit to critical programs will cause real pain to seniors and families in the Baystate, and across America.”
Norman dismissed the latest House Republican plans to delay the Medicare eligibility age and lower the Social Security COLA as just “punishing seniors for growing old.” He predicted that if Republicans keep pushing these cuts to seniors, they will not have their support at the ballot box.”