Seniors raise concerns over funds

Some senior citizens on the coast say they are concerned about what's happening to state programs as tax revenue continues to contract.

Program after program is being hacked and sliced to pieces, they said Tuesday during a meeting sponsored by the Commission on Aging of the Coastal Regional Commission, at Darien Church of God. Some programs are being scrapped altogether due to lack of funding.

One program, the Kinship Care program to assist grandparents rearing grandchildren, has been eliminated be budget cuts, Monica Couch, elder rights program manager at the Coastal Regional Commission, told the 150 persons in the audience.

Other programs being slashed include ombudsman services, which helps monitor elder abuse; the caregivers resource center, which provides adult day care services; and respite care, which allows caregivers to take a break from caring for an elderly ill person at home by providing a sitter on occasions.

Couch said on the state level, the Senior Legal Hotline and the Center for the Visually Impaired have been eliminated, and other programs, including Alzheimer's Services, have faced severe cutbacks. Just how many people are being affected by the cuts is hard to determine, Couch said.

"We currently have a wait list of more than 20,000 people statewide for home- and community-based services," she said. "As of Sept. 1, there were 1,497 individuals waiting for one or more services in the region we serve."

So far, no one has had services discontinued, but Couch said persons on waiting lists cannot be served until additional funding is received.

Couch said the Coastal Regional Commission is the designated Area Agency on Agency for the region, which includes Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Long, Liberty and McIntosh counties. The agency plans and coordinates services and programs for senior citizens, persons with disabilities and caregivers.

Many of the cuts stem from Gov. Sonny Perdue's mandated 5 percent across-the-board cuts for all Department of Human Services programs.

"We understand the economic difficulties facing state government, but advocates are deeply concerned about the depth of service reductions for aging services and the impact they will have on the frail elderly and their caregivers," Couch said.

Alberta Mabry of Darien, a senior advocate, said every day some seniors are faced with having to decide between purchasing food or medicine. Some, she said, only get one hot meal a day from the Darien Senior Center.

Many have watched savings dwindle and are living solely on Social Security.

"We're living longer now, and that makes things more complicated," Mabry said.

Mabry is in favor of respite care and bemoans the cuts that have been made.

"You can remain in your home, rather than be in a nursing home," she said. "Respite care gives the caregiver a short break to go to the store or to get their hair done or see a movie."

The ombudsman program is also critical, Mabry said. "There is lots of abuse toward the elderly," she said.

She said she would like to see an adult day care center opened in McIntosh County. Currently, those with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia must travel to Savannah or Brunswick to participate in adult day care programs.

"We have lots of folks here in McIntosh with Alzheimer's or dementia," Mabry said.

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1, on a town-hall meeting sweep through the district, stopped at the gathering and addressed Social Security concerns. He said cost-of-living increases would most likely not occur for 2010.

"The COLAs are tied to inflation, and with inflation in 2009 down, no COLA is anticipated this year," he said.

Taking questions from the audience, Kingston agreed with a resident who suggested using stimulus funds to fund Georgia Cares, which is Georgia's Medicare Part C and D program.

"We will work with you on it. We support Georgia Cares," Kingston said, explaining that he would look into the possibility of using federal stimulus funds to help replace some lost state funding, even though he has voted in Congress against all stimulus programs other than an extension of the so-called cash for clunkers auto incentive.

"There's a lot of stimulus money sitting out there. It might as well be put toward something useful," Kingston said.