New York State Funding Should Help Ease Waiting Lists

The weather the last few weeks has really reminded us what WNY winters can dish out. It’s seems like it’s been a long time since we have had such cold temperatures and dangerously cold wind chills, not to mention blowing and drifting snow. Since February is heart month, I just want to remind older adults that working in subzero temperatures to clear ice and snow is a lot more strenuous on your heart than doing the same work in mild temperatures. This is the time to let someone else do the work, or better yet wait until a thaw to go out. It is not uncommon to have a heart attack while shoveling snow, so please be careful out there.

February is also the time that NY State starts developing their budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. I am pleased to report that our advocacy around Office for the Aging wait lists has reached the governor’s ears. Governor Cuomo has added $15 million to the NYS Office for the Aging budget, specifically to tackle waiting lists for services like homecare, meals, transportation and other services provided through our office and our counterparts across the state. Since the additional funds are not tied to a funding formula, we can expect that this will significantly reduce and hopefully eliminate the waiting lists that have existed in our county for almost 10 years.

You may recall that we never had a wait list for OFA services until the financial crisis caused our funding to be cut in 2010. Since that time both federal and state funding have lagged despite a growing senior population and studies showing that our services are more economical by keeping people at home, out of nursing homes and off of Medicaid. When the federal and state cuts happened, our local legislature stepped up to try to mitigate the impact on seniors by increasing the local share to our department. They also allowed OFA to pursue other revenue mechanisms like private pay programs, developing an endowment at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and to develop new contracts with managed Medicaid. These actions have allowed us to grow revenue which is reinvested yearly in providing more services. Consequently we have slowly reduced our waitlist from about 450 people (up to 3 years), at its highest, to less than 200 people (about 1 year wait time). I feel confident that this new budget if passed will get us close to eliminating wait list or reducing them to months rather than years.

Last year we led a letter writing campaign called “Step Up for Seniors”. Many of you helped by writing letters and sharing stories telling how the programs and services provided by our office have helped you or your family member. We sent over 800 letters to the governor and state legislators just from our county and combined with other counties there were thousands of letters received. I can tell you that those notes were shared and I believe made a huge impact causing the legislature to add about 5 million dollars to Community Services for the Elderly Program last year. I can not help but think this, along with information on what happens to people on waiting lists, has influenced the governor in his decision to add 15 million dollars to our funding.

Governor Cuomo has declared NY the first “Age-Friendly” state in the nation and this year has backed that declaration with a 15 million dollar investment in older adults. We hope that all of you who have benefitted from services through Office for the Aging like MOW, Health Insurance Counseling, Adult Day Care, Caregiver Support, Homecare, Restaurant Dining, transportation and other services will take the time again this year to call or write our state officials and tell them why # NYSENIORSMATTER. Tell them to support the 15 million dollars in the Governor’s budget but also tell them how our office has helped you or your loved one. They need to hear that these services are essential to keeping you at home, that they have saved you money so your can continue to live independently, that they have reduced your stress while caring for your family member, or that they have enabled you to live a successful life as part of the community. If you would like to send the letters to me at the Office for the Aging, I will be sure that they get to the governor and our elected officials. I appreciate your help as we work together to advocate for the needs of older adults who live in Chautauqua County.

If you know of a senior in need or want more information on #NYSENIORMATTER, go to our Chautauqua County Office for the Aging FaceBook page or call NY Connects at 753-4582, 661-7582 or 363-4582. We are here to help you!

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