Congress has an obscure budgeting process you may not be aware of: It is called sequestration. In the current process, this is an automatic cut of $109 billion, which will have a major impact on seniors and services provided for them. This cut will take effect in January 2013, unless Congress calls its own bluff and finds more appropriate ways to tackle our nation’s deficit.
Sequestration is not a rational budget process. What it does is avoid having to make actual choices about which federal programs provide the greatest return on investment and reflect the current and future needs of our country. Instead, it cuts about 8 percent from all federal discretionary programs. It is nothing more than a gimmick.
Our concern as seniors should be about the total impact this sequestration will have on our nation, but more importantly, what its effect will be on seniors in our local counties and cities. We must be able to allow our most vulnerable older adults to remain independent and healthy in their own homes.
A sequester means seniors currently receiving home-delivered meals five days a week may be reduced to three days a week, which could cause these seniors to go hungry between deliveries. Seniors will also lose access to other essential services, such as rides to doctors’ appointments, assistance with medication management, access to home care and personal care services, as well as many other services that prevent unnecessary and costly hospital and nursing home stays.
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Family caregivers will be impacted as well, as funding for the Older Americans Act will be cut — reducing services such as respite care, which will put more stress, work and financial strain on of the family caregiver. Congress must find better ways to help family caregivers who are the single-largest source of long-term care, not undermine them with cuts to services.
It is understood that we need deficit reduction. However, arbitrarily cutting critical programs to the most vulnerable population, seniors, does not always result in savings, and it can cause great pain and anxiety to those who can least handle it. It is a well known fact that when at-risk older adults don’t get the help they need to remain in their homes, the next option is usually a nursing home. Home-based services cost, on average, about one third as much as nursing home care.
Few elders have the financial resources to fund institutional care out-ofpocket for very long, which means they often end up spending all their resources and must go on Medi-Cal. It becomes a circle that ends up costing taxpayers higher Medi-Cal expenditures.
Take action. Contact your local representatives and let them know that Congress must do whatever it takes to avoid this sequester, and instead take a responsible and balanced approach to solving our national deficit problems. Don’t allow them to make automatic and thoughtless cuts to critical programs, which will cause immense pain to our vulnerable senior population and their families.
Dorothy Schlitz is vice chair of the Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council. The Area Agency on Aging is designated by the state to implement programs that promote the health, dignity and well being of older adults.