Executives from the Area 4 Agency on Aging – which funnels more than $6 million in federal grants each year to a host of seniors' nutrition, health and social programs in a seven-county area including Sacramento – warned elder advocates this week to expect significant funding reductions to programs for older adults.
"We're entering the great unknown," said Area 4 Agency on Aging executive director Deanna Lea. "We need a disaster plan, just in case."
For the first time since 1973, cuts to seniors' programs are under consideration in Washington, she told almost three dozen advocates and service providers in a meeting at the Stanford Settlement Neighborhood Center in Gardenland.
Congress hasn't yet passed a budget for the current fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.
Agency planner Will Tift said that until the federal budget is resolved for both the current and next fiscal years, service providers should brace for the possibility of slashed funding.
While the federal budget stalemate in Washington led to fears of a government shutdown of all but essential services, the agency's assistant director, Pat McVicar, said that wouldn't directly affect local programs.
The real problem, she suggested, is the possibility of retroactive cuts to Older Americans Act programs. Also threatened is the potential rollback of federal funding to 2008 levels in future budgets.
For the Sacramento region, services that help keep fragile older adults living independently in their own homes have already been hit with steep state and local budget reductions.
Among programs receiving Area 4 Agency on Aging funding are:
• Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP), which helps people solve their Medicare problems.
• Adult day care and in-home respite services.
• Senior Companion and senior volunteer programs.
• A range of transportation options for older adults, including Paratransit.
"If any of these programs go away, when vulnerable elderly people call us, we no longer have resources to connect them to," said Marjene Streeper of 2-1-1 Sacramento, a telephone referral agency.
"They're confused and crying. They feel abandoned. We're their lifeline."
Consolidating services across county lines, reducing low priority services and eliminating some services altogether are among the Area 4 Agency on Aging's budget considerations, said Lea.
"I can't tell you we like any of these thoughts," she said.