I just finished a cross-country road trip and in nearly every state I visited I was struck by the upheaval and turmoil surrounding state budget battles and the lack of compassion in the budget cuts to programs designed to serve and protect elders.
Unfortunately, at the moment we’re facing the largest surge of older adults in human history, government programs designed to protect and serve elders are being defunded at an alarming rate due to widespread budget deficits.
As a former national reporter covering state governments I’m familiar with the economic downturn conundrum: just when our most vulnerable populations — low-income, disabled and older people — need help the most, cash-strapped governments cut or eliminate the programs those folks need the most. It’s especially painful at the state level where lawmakers are constitutionally mandated to balance state budgets (unlike the federal government).
Ohio’s newly approved budget slashes state funding for local governments by 50 percent and eliminates the state’s estate tax, 80 percent of which went to local governments. This will force local governments to cut or eliminate senior centers and other programs supporting older adults.
Last week California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a budget that closes the states $26 billion budget gap by slashing funding and eliminating numerous programs, including the state’s entire adult day health program designed to keep older adults living independently and out of nursing homes.
Minnesota’s government has been shutdown and alarming five days as the governor and legislature continue to fight over how to close a $5 billion budget gap. The shutdown poses a direct threat to services for older adults and disabilities, and the proposed cuts to balance the budget threaten numerous programs for older adults.
Economic downturns are cyclical and no matter how long and bad the current one appears, the economy will bounce back eventually. Until then, we have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
While I was in Minnesota last week a friend shared a powerful video appeal from the state’s elders challenging us all to rethink our priorities when it comes to budget cuts. If your state is considering budget cuts that will adversely affect vulnerable populations, please take a moment to share this video with your state representative.