April 14, 2015
Commentary: Thousands of seniors anxiously
await lawmakers’ budget decisions
By CHRIS FITZSIMON
NC Policy Watch
state lawmakers return this week from their unusual spring break,
debate over the budget will take center stage as the House puts
together its spending plan for the next two years.
of the public discussion of the budget focuses on teacher and state
employee pay, education funding, Medicaid, and business incentives.
$21 billion plan will also include hundreds of spending decisions that
seem small in comparison to the big ticket items but that directly
affect the lives of tens of thousands of people, especially low-income
families and other vulnerable populations, children, people with mental
illness or a disabilities, and seniors.
of the best examples of what’s at stake in the debates behind the
scenes is the pending funding decision on the Home and Community Care
Block Grant, a program funded by the federal, state and local
governments that provides basic in-home services to allow seniors to
stay in their homes and out of expensive institutions—meals on wheels,
transportation to the doctor and adult day care support.
growing revenues and a recovering economy, state lawmakers cut state
funding for the block grant program by roughly a million dollars last
year, adding to a waiting list for the basic services that numbered
more than 16,000 when the General Assembly voted to cut the funding.
cut came on top of a $2 million dollar reduction in federal funding
thanks to the ridiculous budget sequester agreement that reduced
was no explanation for the reductions made to the program in the state
budget last year. It was just another decision made to slash
spending in the name of shrinking government and freeing up money to
pay for the rising cost of the tax cuts passed in 2013.
Pat McCrory included no new money for the block grant program in the
budget proposal he submitted to lawmakers last month, leaving the
funding at last year’s reduced level even as the state’s senior
population continues to grow.
still is moving backwards and forcing more people on to the waiting
list or into institutions where it will cost taxpayers more to take
care of them.
funding for the program by at least restoring last year’s cut is a
major priority for groups that advocate for seniors, including AARP,
and they make a compelling case.
two-thirds of the people who received help from the program in
2013-2014 were over 75 years old—the average participant is nearly 80–
and roughly half of them had incomes at or below the poverty level and
the services provided are not covered by Medicaid.
Health News last year told the story of one of them, a 91-year-old
woman in Wilson who would have been in an assisted living center
partially paid for by Medicaid without Meals on Wheels supplementing
the help she receives from extended family members.
of the recent budget cuts there are fewer seniors receiving the
services now than received them three years ago, despite the growing
senior population and the growing need.
block grant program saves money and improves the quality of life for
thousands of people who want to stay in their own homes. It’s absurd to
keep reducing the funding and the people in North Carolina agree.
poll released in November found that 85 percent of voters support the
state increasing funding to reduce the waiting list for services and 70
percent support more funding for the program even if it meant raising
people of North Carolina get it. They know that providing meals and
other basic services to seniors in their homes is the compassionate and
the fiscally prudent thing to do.
hope legislative leaders catch on this year and realize that every
proposed budget cut is not a good one and that their decisions have
real and human consequences.
Policy Watch is a progressive, nonprofit and non-partisan public policy
organization and news outlet dedicated to informing elected
officials as they debate important issues and, ultimately, to improving
the quality of life for all North Carolinians.)