Senior Lobby Seeks Funds For Care Of Elderly

The Washington Senior Citizens’ Lobby charges that lawmakers last session shortchanged the state’s oldest, frailest, and poorest citizens on long-term care.

“It appears the Republican leadership just wanted to save money for tax cuts and other things more important to them,” says Bruce Reeves of Olympia, president of the volunteer lobby.

“We in the Senior Citizens’ Lobby see a great need among the older elderly for better home care,” said Reeves. “It is unconscionable that the Republican leadership didn’t care about this.

“Instead, they are responsible for legislation which said, in effect, if funding runs short, those responsible for home care for the elderly and disabled have no recourse except to rewrite the rules for eligibility,” says Reeves. “By rewriting the rules and regulations, administrators must weed out people who normally get help they otherwise could not afford.”

In a letter to state legislators, the lobby said many seniors groups are upset about how their tax dollars were dispensed last session. “The 26 seniors organizations that form the … coalition are disappointed and very concerned,” the letter reads, “about funding of long-term care this biennium for disabled adults and seniors who do not have sufficient resources to pay the cost of necessary care.

“The governor’s 1997-1999 budget for long-term care requested funding to support a projected caseload averaging 300 clients per month over the biennium for home and community-based services,” the letter goes on.

“However, the final legislative budget reduced the appropriation for home and community care by $38 million, substituting an average biennial caseload of only 182 clients per month.

“The actual average monthly caseload for 1997 has been 269.”

But Republican Sen. James West of Spokane, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, at the center of the budget process, says the numbers cited by the Senior Citizens’ Lobby are wrong. There has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what really happened, he says.

“The budget we passed actually increased long-term care over last biennium by $167 million - or 43 percent,” West says.

That, he acknowledges, is about $36 million less than the amount requested in the governor’s budget. But there are some complicated reasons this is still more than adequate.

“If you argue these things just in the context of dollars, you really lose the picture,” says West.

However, Reeves reports that, with large-scale underfunding looming, the legislative requirement to tighten eligibility standards or reduce service levels is starting to kick in, and rules are being revised to exclude many in dire need.

“The Senior Citizens’ Lobby believes that all the clients in the state’s long-term care program are low-income, ill and extremely frail,” Reeves says in the letter to lawmakers. “It is not humane or reflective of the values of the citizens of Washington state to deny assistance simply to save money.

“Furthermore, such a policy would be ‘pound foolish.’ Any substantial interruption in the provision of home and community care for persons assessed as seriously disabled will inevitably result in higher and costlier nursing home caseloads.”

Hence, the senior lobby urges lawmakers to adopt a $38-million supplemental budget item this legislative session to fully fund the projected long-term care caseload.

“It isn’t like we don’t have the money available without a tax increased to take care of the old and sick,” says Reeves. “There’s a budget surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The more affluent members of our state are enjoying unprecedented economic growth and prosperity,” the senior lobbyist said. “We can well afford to show a little compassion for those less fortunate.

“We must get our priorities straight, and see to it that our elected officials put our money where their mouths are.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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