From: Sylvia Erber
Late last year the director of the Office on Aging was told to trim the budget requests by 10 percent. The budget of the Office on Aging has always been a lean one.
Commission on Aging members had testified frequently that though older persons were the fastest growing segment of the county's population, this was not being reflected in the budget. Shortly after the election, a countywide budget cut of 16 percent was announced. It brought the proposed cut to 26 percent.
The magnitude of this cut is staggering. The testimony of commission members Jessica Rowe and Richard Kirchner and many others at public hearings on March 6 and a special hearing on senior issues March 11 displayed deep concern about cuts in services to the elderly and other programs that affect the health, welfare and safety of our citizenry.
My testimony submitted to County Executive Charles Ecker at the March 6 public hearing was:
"I am a member of the Howard County Commission on Aging, though I speak here as a citizen, a voter and taxpayer. Specifically, I seek to articulate the needs of those who are too infirm, often bedridden, or too sick to appear in public to make you aware of their situation.
"I wish to take issue with the conceptthat across-the-board cuts are fair. They are not. We do not allocate money across the board. We should not make cuts across the board. That does not apply to seniors, but to all programs that affect the health, safety and welfare of Howard countians.
"A cut in the already very lean budget of the Office on Aging amounting to 26 percent affects the very life-blood programs that serve the ill, the poor, the lonely and those without means of transportation.
"It is necessary to be clear on what it means to cut a program that provides help to those who need help to cope with the problems of aging, especially in poverty. This requires awareness of their most basic needs encountered in daily living: Did you take your medicine? Do you need financial assistance to pay for your medicine? Will you be able to take it regularly and not skip a day because you can't afford it? How do you fillout those confusing forms for medical insurance? Are you eligible for medical assistance? Are you paying twice for the same doctor's visit? Do you need help in paying regular household bills? Are you eligible for appropriate housing? Would you like a little companionship to make lonely days a bit more tolerable?
"These are the kind of questions asked by program staff that is knowledgeable about a variety ofassistance programs offered by agencies and institutions; knowledgeable of the intricacies of Medicare and Medicaid; and specialized state and county programs.
"And above all, staff with a proven willingness and compassion to work with this population. Once dropped, personnel like this cannot be easily put back to work a year or two later.
"Meals on Wheels: Our program often provides the only real meal aperson may have in the day. What does it mean to lose 758 home-delivered meals, delivered to those who are unable to come to a nutrition site or a congregate eating place? We cannot and we will not permit anyone needing these meals to go without.
"What does it mean to cutback on the number of days per week lunch will be served at a nutrition site, going from four days to three, for example? This is not thesame as cutting back on the number of times grass is cut in a countypark.
"These cuts would come at a time when a needs survey has shown that we should increase the number of meals to meet the demand ofour seniors coming to a nutrition site.
"Coming to a nutrition site goes beyond just the meal, important as that is. It is a time for people to get together. Make friends. Share their lives. To eliminate11,500 meals a year is obscene in a county as affluent as ours. Manyelderly had hoped to see the programs at our senior centers duplicated to the extent possible.
"What does it mean to cut transportation for the elderly? It affects how seniors get to these lunch programs, to the doctor and to other essential places. URTA is the only transportation available to many seniors.
"Not only have services been reduced, but the cost has gone up from 50 cents to $1 each way. If you pay $2 round trip to get to the nutrition program, some cannot pay for the lunch. It might mean going only once a week, because some cannot both pay the fare and make a contribution to the cost of the lunch.
"This in turn reduces the amount in contributions, which further reduces the money available for the program. Those contributions are more urgently needed now to make the shortfall in funds cut. This became apparent when the 50-cent fare was introduced last year. Can we turn people away because they cannot afford to come and eat? And has this fare increase solved any of URTA's basic problems?