Cuts could reduce money for low-income seniors in Benton, Franklin counties

Agency expects to lose $160,000 if Congress doesn’t pass option

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldMarch 23, 2013 

One of the many ripple effects of mandatory federal budget cuts could mean fewer meals for low-income seniors, advocates said.

Aging & Long Term Care of Southeast Washington, the agency providing services to seniors and people with disabilities in eight counties including Benton and Franklin, expects to lose $160,000 to sequestration if an alternative isn't adopted by Congress.

"It'll have a significant and immediate effect if not resolved," said Lori Brown, the agency's director.

The agency already has seen a reduction in state money, including for in-home care hours for people who need help with everyday activities.

Brown said across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration would reduce the amount of money available for meals provided to seniors and foot care, which can be critical for people with diabetes.

"We have had reductions in senior citizens services at the state level for three years," Brown said. "And food costs have gone up, gas has gone up. That impacts those programs. Wages may not have gone up, but other costs have increased. The end result has already been that we've reduced services."

The agency provides home-delivered meals and in settings where seniors can gather for a meal. A 2012 year-end report shows 1,172 seniors in Benton County and 474 in Franklin County received nutrition services last year. Nutrition made up 62 percent of the agency's expenditures -- a total of $1.9 million in eight counties.

The foot care program is designed for early detection of existing and potential foot problems, such as ulcers that can develop on the feet of diabetics and lead to amputation. That program served 89 Benton residents and 321 Franklin residents in 2012. Foot care was about 3 percent of the agency's expenditure, or about $99,000.

The agency also serves people in Kittitas, Yakima, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties.

Brown said she and other advocates are waiting anxiously for Congress to find a solution to federal budget woes.

"We're hoping (the solution) isn't further reductions in programs that have proven to help," she said. "There's evidence that indicates these are programs where you get a big bang for the buck."

Good nutrition, for example, can help seniors or people with disabilities avoid going into nursing homes, she said.

"I don't think anybody questions these are wonderful programs. We're just caught up in the politics," Brown said.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @mduplertch

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