Cuts Force Families To Make Hard Choices

elderlyShirley Miller, an 85-year-old widow, has lived on the 10th floor of an aging rent-subsidized apartment building in Winter Park, Fla., for 21 years, close to her friends, church and doctors. Miller remains sharp and independent, but one health problem after another has left her unable to maintain her daily routine on her own.

So a year ago she applied for help with cleaning, meals and personal care from the state’s Medicaid and elder care programs. Though she qualifies for help, she was put on a waiting list.

Today Miller weighs barely 100 pounds. She eats only when friends bring her food. She cries because she cannot clean her home or even bathe herself properly.

And she has yet to receive any help from the state.

“I’m afraid now I’ll die before they get to me,” she says, in a voice just above a whisper.

Programs that help older Americans like Miller live independently in their own homes—and out of nursing homes—have not been keeping pace with the needs of people age 85 and older, the fastest-growing age group. Across the nation more than 300,000 individuals are already on Medicaid waiting lists for home or neighborhood services.

Now, shocking budget deficits produced by the deepening recession are forcing state lawmakers to freeze or even cut these lifelines for older residents. At least 46 states plus the District of Columbia face shortfalls this year or next; and an estimated $350 billion in state deficits loom over the next 30 months, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington think tank.

“Every program, every bill and every policy issue will be affected by the economy,” William Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, wrote in a recent NCSL report on the budget outlook.

At least 22 states and the District of Columbia are cutting or proposing cuts to home and community services or are significantly increasing what low-income people must pay for them, according to the CBPP. In a recent national survey of state area offices on aging—which direct many such state programs—70 percent said they anticipate “severe” budget cuts.

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Source: aarp.org (March 02, 2009)

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