Seniors of Macon County may have become the next group in line to feel the tightening of the budgetary confines caused by what is known as the federal sequester. The sequestration has been making its presence known since it took effect on March 1 of this year, affecting a wide range of government programs in different sectors across the board. With each passing day, the loss of funding in programs could affect the well-being of the most vulnerable.
The Budget Control Act of 2011, more often called the sequester by news media, was an attempt by national lawmakers to reach an agreement that would help reduce the national debt by $4 trillion. The United States Congress passed the law that said if they could not agree on a plan to accomplish the goal, automatic, arbitrary and across the board budget cuts totaling about $1 trillion would take effect in March 2013. The trickle down repercussions are likely to be felt in the senior citizen programs of counties all across the country, including Macon County.
The Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Age (AAA) has made sure that senior citizens in the western counties of N.C. receive proper care and attention to remain independent and in their own homes using funds from the Home and Community Care Block Grant. The grant consists of approximately 60 percent Federal Older Americans Act Funds and 40 percent state - appropriated funds.
According to Cindy Miles, Family Caregiver Resource Coordinator at the Southwestern Commission AAA, programs that are currently used by senior citizens in the county are already seeing cuts of $14,128. These cuts are occurring in congregate meals, home delivered meals, transportations, and adult day services.
“The cuts to the nutrition services alone will mean a reduction of over 1,000 meals during the course of the year,” she says. “The home delivered or congregate meal is often the only hot meal a senior citizen will have in the course of a day.”
Who will help those who are suffering from these cuts if the government cannot even decide on an agreement to fix the damage done and the impending consequences? Miles expressed concern about additional funding from other sources like community members and the Macon County government.
“Without help from the community at large we will definitely have vulnerable senior citizens in our county who will go without a hot meal as well as other critical services,” said Miles. “It is much cheaper to provide these types of services to seniors, which enable them to remain at home, than it is to institutionalize them in a nursing home.”
According to Nick Beamer, president of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the costs of in-home care compared to the costs of placing people into supervised institutional care are so far apart that lawmakers should easily see the problem that is being created by the cuts caused by the sequester.
“The sequester will cut OAA (Older Americans Act of 1965) by approximately $87 million in the first year alone. And coming on the heels of stagnant funding, that average of approximately five percent really hurts the very people we are trying so hard to help,” he said in an op-ed penned back in April. “Given the high costs of nursing home care, which average $72,000 a year, compared to the much lower costs of in-home and community based care, estimated to be 1/3 of the cost of institutional care, you might think it is a “no-brainer” to exempt the OAA from from the sequester.”
Data provided by the AAA show that over the next 15-20 years, the number of older people in this country will increase faster that at any other time in the nation's history. AAAs across the country have made it a point to prepare communities as well as possible for the impending “age wave,” but these cuts will continue to affect these agencies, the senior citizens who receive their services and others throughout the country until a fix is decided upon.
“Right now we’re just waiting for Congress to fix it. They are going to have to decide on a budget and all we can hope for is that when they do, it will excuse the senior citizen services that are being hurt by the sequester,” said Sheila Jenkins, administrative officer for Macon County Senior Services.