What the Fiscal Cliff Means for Elder Programs

BY DOUA THOR, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SOUTHEAST ASIA RESOURCE ACTION CENTER (SEARAC)

Everywhere you turn these days, it seems that you can’t get away from talk of the “fiscal cliff.” As advocates for elders, we too, are concerned with the impending austerity measures and how, if triggered, they will impact funding for programs for our elder generations.

There’s no getting around the fact that if sequestration is allowed to go into effect in January, the resulting non-defense discretionary cuts in FY 2013 will put programs at risk that currently maintain older adults’ independence, health, and well-being. The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), of which SEARAC is a member, has put together a very helpful issue brief on how sequestration would hurt programs that are authorized by the Older Americans Act (OAA). By the numbers, these are some highlights of how the cuts would affect elder programs (at 8 percent sequestration):

  • An estimated 17 million congregate and home-delivered meals will be lost.
  • 1.9 million senior transportation rides to medical appointments, grocery shopping and other primary needs will be lost.
  • 290,000 older adults will no longer receive the case management that coordinates care essential to remaining at home.
  • Another 1.5 million people will lose personal care services such as in-home assistance with bathing, toileting and dressing.
  • Three-quarters of a million individuals in adult day care programs would lose access to the health care, socialization and nutrition they and family caregivers rely upon.
  • 75,000 seniors will lose access to OAA legal services, just as elder abuse and fraud is on the rise.
  • Sequestration could cut off heating to 290,000 senior households.
  • 6,400 fewer unemployed low-income older adults will get hired and paid as part of the Senior Community Service Employment Program, and 3.5 million fewer community service hours will be provided by local nonprofit, faith-based and government agencies, including 855,000 fewer hours serving the elderly.

Additionally, while Medicaid and Social Security are exempt from the sequester, changes to the programs are options for the fiscal cliff, such as raising the Medicare Eligibility age to 67, and implementing the chained CPI for Social Security. This means that older adults would have less access to healthcare and less economic security.

Many proponents of these harmful measures would argue that they are for the sake of future generations. In actuality, these proponents are unnecessarily pitting current retirees against younger generations. Not only do these cuts harm current older adults, they will have lasting consequences for young people who hope to retire one day and live a full quality of life—yet who are also living in a post-Great Recession reality where private retirement sources are shrinking and healthcare costs continue to rise. As an organization that works to ensure a socially, politically and economically just society for ALL communities and all generations, we believe that elder issues are intergenerational issues, impacting entire families. Congress must act fast in order to avoid triggering sequestration in early January—and the devastating effects that mandatory cuts will have on elders and their families. Moving forward, we need to chart a path for equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth for all communities.

Folks around the country have been speaking out on how the fiscal showdown will affect critical programs from youth to elders and families and everyone in between. Check out this roundup of blog posts and see how it will impact them.

This blog post originally appeared in SEARAC’s (Southeast Asia Resource Action Center) official blog. Reprinted with permission from SEARAC.