Elderly deserve our support

There is no question that times are tough in Oregon. Like the rest of the country, we have rising unemployment, diminished consumer spending and home foreclosures on the upswing. In some parts of the country, I have read about car dealerships offering customers a "buy-one-get-one-free" deal on full sized U.S.- made trucks. Maybe it will help reduce the inventory sitting on the lot.

As we enter the next legislative session in Salem, our elected officials will be faced with a very different picture than the session in January 2007 where we were still in the economic glow of growth and prosperity. This year they face a growing budget deficit and an economy in recession, which will leave the Legislature with some very difficult decisions.

The first step in the budget building process however, is for Gov. Ted Kulongoski to develop and deliver his proposed budget for the next two years.

In the budget that was released in December by the governor's office for the 2009-2011 biennium, we see that priorities have been set to reduce the Department of Human Services budget by 15 percent and specifically to reduce funding for programs serving frail elderly and people with disabilities by 18 percent over the next two years. The total cut in state funding amounts to $234 million. When you consider that all of the cuts are to services that receive federal Medicaid match, the total reductions amount to over $600 million for the next two years.

The people who receive these state and federally funded services qualify for help in two ways. The first is that they qualify according to their income, which is set at $1,991 per month for an individual. The second is based on the level of help that is needed in very basic areas such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation and mobility. To qualify for help through Medicaid, seniors and people with disabilities must require assistance in several of these areas.

There will be consequences to these choices. The governor proposes to cut over 10,000 frail elderly and people with disabilities from services. People living in their own homes and people living in foster care and assisted living settings will be told that they no longer qualify for Medicaid. Their care needs have not changed, the state changed the rules.

Thousands will be left without a home and without a care provider to help to prepare a meal or take a bath. The proposed budget will create panic and fear for people that need care and support and deserve our full attention as valuable human beings living among us. In the $600 million cost-cutting exercise, 10,000 Oregonians will be told that they don't matter any more and that their well-being means nothing. They are alone.

The budget proposed by the governor acknowledges that there is not enough "money to do everything that needs to be done." He wants to invest in the future "by investing in children, working families, businesses, and economic opportunity during these challenging times."

These are noble goals, and many of us would agree that in these difficult economic times, a plan to invest in these areas makes sense. It's too bad that our most vulnerable citizens, who are often invisible to us in our busy day-to-day life, are seen as disposable people. They are the people who will pay the price of our investments.

I am hopeful that more equitable solutions will be found over the next several months and that these solutions affirm our moral obligations to our frail elderly and people with disabilities living in Oregon.

Scott Bond is the chairman of the Oregon Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities (O4AD). He can be reached at O4AD, P. O. Box 12189, Salem, OR 97309 (541-812-6008) or by e"'mail at sbond@ocwcog.org.

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