While much was still indefinite at the time, panelists at a May 17 “Community Conversation” said proposed federal spending reductions could mean fewer services for older adults in Tarrant County.
Joining United Way and its Area Agency on Aging in sponsoring the free public event were Meals On Wheels Inc. of Tarrant County, Sixty & Better, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
Moderator Don Smith, Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Director and United Way Community Development Vice President, set the stage by noting that United Way and AAA receive about $5 million annually in federal Older Americans Act funding for local services for older adults and caregivers such as nutrition programs, benefits counseling, in-home services and transportation. Another $2 million for such services comes from United Way donations.
“Ninety percent of adults age 65 and older say they hope to stay in their homes for as long as possible,” said panelist Autumn Campbell, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (shown here with Jerome Mosman). But to do so, many people eventually need some level of service or support to live safely and successfully in their home or community. “It’s cheaper to serve people in their homes and communities,” said Autumn, “and they have better health outcomes.”
Older Americans Act funds make up less than one-half of 1% of the $3.9 trillion fiscal year 2016 federal budget, but budget battles in the nation’s capital in the last half dozen years have led to mostly flat funding for aging programs and a climate of restrained federal spending, even in the face of a growing older adult population and increasing costs.
While the Trump Administration’s full Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for federal programs had not been issued yet when the Community Conversation was held, a preliminary budget released in March indicated “some really deep cuts to domestic spending proposed by the Administration,” Autumn said. The Administration’s proposed cuts are not binding, she noted. Congress won’t be quite so drastic in its actions, she predicted, but it will need to cut programs to meet current law, she said. “They have some really difficult decisions to make,” she said.
Uncertainty also abounds regarding health care legislation and older adults. The House recently passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The Senate is continuing to work on its version of an Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement bill. The AHCA in its current form would mean “major implications for people 55 and older,” Autumn said. Among other things, she said, it would—
- Hasten insolvency of the Medicare Trust Fund.
- Allow insurers to charge more to older adults.
- Eliminate health programs focused on disease prevention.
- Roll back pre-existing condition protections, life-time cap and out-of-pocket cost protections.
- Restructure Medicaid.
Community Conversation panelist Carla Jutson, President and CEO of Meals On Wheels of Tarrant County (MOW), said the organization prepared and delivered 926,416 meals during the last fiscal year. Federal funds make up a third of the MOW budget. A 5% reduction in federal funding would mean 15,662 fewer meals for 85 fewer homebound people, she said. A 10% cut would mean 31,325 fewer meals for 170 fewer people. “We are able to feed a senior for an entire year for $1,560, which is the equivalent cost of one day in a hospital or 10 days in a nursing home,” said Carla.
Panelist Jerome Mosman, CEO of Sixty & Better (formerly called Senior Citizen Services of Greater Tarrant County), said nearly half of his organization’s revenue–49%–is federal funds. Sixty & Better has 25 activity centers across Tarrant County. They provide nutritious meals and recreation to promote health and reduce senior isolation.
For the nutrition program, $1 million in federal funding is added to a 10% local match. About 209,000 meals were served in 2016. Slightly more than half of the older adults surveyed said their activity center meals are their most important source of nutrition.
Using several transit services, Sixty & Better also provides more than 41,000 one-way trips annually to the activity centers and shopping. It receives $200,000 in federal funding for transportation with a $41,000 local match.
“We’re probably going to get less money from Washington,” Jerry said. “We’re still looking at local ways to get more funding.” Reduced funding could mean reducing meals and rides to fewer than 5 days a week, he said.
Jerry said seniors are becoming self-advocates, as when 126 people went to city hall in Fort Worth last September to advocate for more senior activity center funding. “It was a game changer,” he said. Autumn also encouraged Community Conversation attendees to contact their members of Congress “and let them know what these programs mean to you.”