The growing numbers of older people in North Carolina who need help staying out of long-term homes care are getting a cold shoulder in the proposed state Senate budget, advocates say.
The $22.9 billion Senate budget released this week provides continuation funding of just less than $1 million for Home and Community Care Block Grants, the pie of state and federal money that each county government gets to divide up for the benefit of older people. More than ten thousand people across the state are on waiting lists for block-grant funded programs such as Meals on Wheels, in-home aides, refurbishing of houses, adult day care, mental health counseling, and senior center operations.
Advocates for older people including N.C. Coalition on Aging president Mary Bethel say an annual allotment of $4 million to $7 million is needed to fill the increasing need across the state. The block grant services are specifically selected to allow people to age in place instead of moving to assisted living or nursing homes.
"The funding has remained fairly stagnant, the cost of delivering services has gone up, and more people need services," Bethel says.
A call and email from the INDY
to the office of Senate leader Phil Berger asking for comment on the funding was not returned Thursday.
Alan Winstead, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Wake County, said fifty Raleigh-area residents are on a waiting list for a daily, volunteer-delivered meal that can make a real difference for an older person living by himself or herself. In addition to bringing a nutritional meal, a Meals on Wheels volunteer may represent the only person the recipient sees all day.
"It makes them feel safer to live at home," Winstead says. “And it gives their family peace of mind because they know we're going to call them if their parent isn't answering the door."
Bethel says she and others are disappointed that the Senate not only failed to increase funding but also kept the money in the budget on a nonrecurring basis. That means it will have to go through the approval process during each budget cycle.
In addition, agencies such as Resources for Seniors, which oversees block grant services in Wake County, could have a hard time committing to long-term plans. And more people will be added to the thousands already on the waiting list.
The budget also failed to hike statewide funding for Adult Protective Services, despite continuing increases in the need for adult guardianship and other services in North Carolina. According to the coalition, adult protective services agencies received nearly twenty-six thousand reports in the past fiscal year, an increase of more than 50 percent since the 2009–10 budget year.
“I thought we did a good job of communicating with Senate members about the critical need for funds to support these programs and was surprised that so little was in the budget for aging services,” Bethel said in a statement. “I went over the budget twice because I thought I had just missed seeing the funding listed, but it was not there.”
A projected state budget surplus of more than a half-billion dollars will apparently go to upper-end earners in the form of significant tax cuts, not to the large numbers of North Carolinians who would benefit from increased services for the aging. That’ll be the case if the Senate and House budget writers are in rough agreement, the scenario some observers of the legislature are predicting.
“They keep talking about the haves and the have-nots, but they're exacerbating the difference,” Winstead says of legislators.