Everyone Needs To ‘Step Up’ For Seniors

For the last few weeks, I have been traveling around the county to meet with older adults to discuss Gov. Cuomo’s proposed 2017-18 budget. Many have voiced their shock and dismay that the governor proposes to cut 12.6 million in aging services funding at a time when over 15,000 people age 60+ are waiting for services across the state. In Chautauqua County, we have over 450 people waiting for services. One senior asked “does this mean I won’t get the help I need? I have been waiting for almost a year.” Funding cuts to our programs make it uncertain how long people will have to wait for services like homecare, emergency response buttons, and adult day services because the state funds assist people to pay for the services when they are unable to afford the full cost. Earlier in the month, I met with the executive director of Jamestown MOW, Barrie Yochim, to discuss our meal contracts. Mr. Yochim revealed that if cuts to state funding go into effect, they will have to start a wait list for meals for the first time in the history of their Meals on Wheels program.

At the same time that Governor Cuomo has proposed these cuts to aging funding, he announced his intention to make NY an “Age Friendly” state. Many seniors have asked, “How you can be age friendly if you are cutting the programs that help seniors stay independent in their homes through the end of life?” While we don’t have an answer to this question, we are encouraging seniors to let our elected state officials know how they feel. The next few weeks are critical. In March both houses of the state legislature will be meeting to discuss the governor’s proposals and make changes or additions to the state budget which needs be completed by March 3. Seniors and their family members who are getting services or waiting for services need to “Step Up” and let their elected officials know how they feel about cuts to these and other programs.

The “Step-Up for Seniors” campaign was started by the head of the NYS Senate Aging Committee, Sue Serino, and the chair of NYS Assembly Aging Committee, Donna Lupardo, at a press conference on Feb. 7. They, along with many other state legislators, are concerned about cuts to senior programs at a time when the senior population in NY is growing exponentially. They realize that it is difficult for seniors and caregivers to get to Albany to protest or show support for these programs so they are asking for you to sign petitions, write letters, call or hold mock rallies to show support for these vital programs that are not only essential to aging New Yorkers, but are cost effective. The state can not afford for everyone who needs help to go into nursing homes and who do you know who wants to live the end of their life in a nursing home? The state recently expanded options under Medicaid so the elderly and disabled who are below poverty can get more services in their homes to keep them there. That’s great for the people who qualify for Medicaid but what about those who don’t qualify and are not rich enough to afford to privately hire the help that they need. That is where Office for the Aging programs can help, but only if we have adequate funding.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging touches over 7,000 seniors and caregivers every year through our various programs. In addition, we regularly provide homecare, medical monitoring, adult day care and case management to over 600 people and an additional 1,000 people get regular meals through Office for the Aging and our partners at Meals on Wheels. Prior to 2010 there was never a wait list for any of our services. In 2010 there was a retro-active cut by NY State that caused the first wait lists to form. Although our local government has added more funding to our budget in recent years, flat or declining state and federal funding, as well as an increasing need with the baby boomers, has made the problem worse.

Part of my job as Office for the Aging Director is to advocate for the needs of seniors who live in our community. I overheard one lady this past week say, “It won’t make a difference, no one cares about old people.” She is wrong. My staff and I care and there are many others who care but we need everyone to “Step Up” if we want lawmakers to pay attention. The last two years Office for the Aging our advocacy efforts have been successful, resulting in modest increases to the Community Services for the Elderly program. However, these small increases do not make up for 10 years of cuts and level funding.

If you would like to get involved with “Step Up for Seniors” campaign visit NYS state Sen. Sue Serino’s website at: nysenate.gov/senators/sue-serino. If you want to write a letter, you may drop it off or send to Office for the Aging at 7 North Erie St., Mayville, NY 14757. Office for the Aging is gathering all the letters and petitions from our seniors and senior groups and will make sure these get to our governor and the appropriate state legislators who are formulating changes to the state budget. A copy of the petition is available on Sen. Serino’s website. For more information about this and any of our programs contact the NY Connects helpline at 753-4582, 363-4582 or 661-7582. Remember the Office for the Aging is here to help you!