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Fiscal Focus: Senior Services

Why the Public Should Invest Community support for the elderly is a long held tradition.  We all have personal stories and reasons to care about senior services.  Senior citizens often have wisdom, experiences, and memories that are guiding lessons for the next generation. Ohio is an aging state with almost 1.5 million individuals over the age of 65 and over one million more between 55-64 years old.

The Current Reality The Ohio Department of Aging provides many great services throughout Ohio.  They administer programs that provide healthcare and living assistance, and they also administer employment and volunteer programs to help older Ohioans engage in their community. Our diverse senior services are a strong investment because they recognize that each individual has a different set of needs as they age.

Ohio has over 450 senior centers.  Each center is unique in the services that they provide, trying to meet the needs of their local communities.  These centers will provide social programs, transportation, shopping assistance, tax help, and other services.  These programs receive a mix of local, state, and federal funding.

The Local Government Fund (LGF) has seen a 50% cut in the current budget and, despite a growing rainy day fund, these funds have not been restored.  After the cuts in 2011, Van Wert County Council on Aging and the Delphos Senior Citizens’ Center no longer received any state funds through the Area Agency on Aging.  Luckily, local property owners were able to pass two levies in 2011 to keep these programs running.  Other communities have been placed in similar situations.  Ohioans clearly value these services, passing all senior levies in November 2012.  But, not every community feels they have the ability to pass a levy, and have made substantial service cuts due to loss of funds.

In addition to the visible needs of seniors such as physical and health conditions associated with old age, seniors deal with the hidden issues of abuse and depression. The Ohio Coalition for Adult Protective Services reported in May of 2011 that 32 counties lack a social worker with training in adult protective services.  Trained social workers can help our elderly community members report abuse and neglect and stop financial scams.  Adult protective services saw a 7% cut between fiscal years 2011 and 2012.  Social service providers also report that close to 20% of seniors suffer from depression and social isolation is a contributing factor.

The 2014-15 Budget In the upcoming budget, senior services will be a topic of consideration as the state discusses more spending cuts. The most notable discussion will center on healthcare policy and whether we should adopt the Medicaid Expansion of the Affordable Care Act (look for a future Fiscal Focus on this topic).

Related to healthcare, some past policies may be revisited. In the last state two-year budget, state programs were modified to increase home health service options over nursing homes.  Home healthcare, when viable, can reduce costs and increase the quality of life for seniors. However, many advocates believe that the 2012-2013 budget lacked the administrative supports to make these program changes successful and rates were cut for providers.  It is possible that we will see efforts to strengthen a system of care by addressing provider rate structures and administrative processes.

In addition to healthcare for seniors, basic services will also see a budget cut. The Ohio Estate Tax is set to expire at the end of this year. Some of the revenue collected is distributed to the local community of the decedent.  It is important to remember that this is a tax that impacts fewer than 8% of Ohioans. Without replacing this revenue somehow in the GRF, local communities will see more cuts to local services.

As Ohio policymakers discuss the impact of another proposed cut to the state income tax, we need to remember that the 2005 tax policy changes cut the income tax by 21% and have cost us over $2.5 billion in annual revenue.  This money could have helped train more social workers in senior care to prevent senior abuse, more programs for senior centers, and the resources to establish higher quality healthcare.

Speak Up! If you would like to get involved as the state budget nears and our advocacy increases, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for our emails. Please read our past Fiscal Focus articles on K-12 education, state parks, or privatization.

If you’re interested in additional information on state parks in the state budget or have any other related question, please contact us.

#FiscalFocus #seniorservices

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