We can, and must, do better than House budget plan

Cutting critical parts of the state budget does not reduce the needs of seniors any more than cutting a family’s food budget makes anyone less hungry

The debate raging in Concord goes far beyond balancing the budget.

The privilege of governing necessarily requires an appreciation of life’s fragility and a recognition that many survive thanks to lifelines that aren’t nearly as apparent as the overhead utility lines that bring light and warmth to the homes of many. The House budget severs many such lifelines and does so contrary to the views of the majority of residents. 

In a 2015 AARP survey of 1,000 New Hampshire residents (55 percent AARP and 45 percent non-members) age 50 and older, 82 percent of respondents said it was extremely or very important for them to remain in their own homes as they age.

Another 84 percent said it was extremely or very important to have the ability to provide care for loved ones to help them live at home.

And an overwhelming 88 percent said that caregiver resources in their communities were very, or somewhat, helpful to have.

The House’s proposed budget includes a 50 percent cut to non-Medicaid social services, including meals (home-delivered and congregate), transportation and in-home care. Of these services, Meals on Wheels, a well-run and heavily volunteer-staffed program, has – for decades – been delivering three things to homebound and isolated seniors: a meal, a safety check and human contact. 

Each weekday, some 4,600 seniors receive a home-delivered meal. One recent estimate states that over 1,271,522 nutritious meals were served here in 2014. 

Existing federal and state funding only covers a portion of the cost of these programs – they already run on a shoestring. The House cuts would cause about half of the people who receive these meals to lose these lifelines. The loss of these things could jeopardize the ability of many of these seniors to continue living independently. The House cuts would save $5.2 million in 2016 and $5.4 million in 2017, while losing $5 million of federal funding in both years. What do the human and economic costs total? We must do better.

Some 183,000 Granite Staters care, without pay, for parents, friends, siblings and neighbors. The services they provide for free are worth $2.2 billion. While we provide care out of love, duty, loyalty or affection, this volunteer army of caregivers sometimes needs help.

That help exists through ServiceLink, our state’s aging and disability resource center. ServiceLink gives people assistance to care for others, stay in their homes, understand Medicare and related health insurance benefits, locate housing and transportation options and locate financial and retirement planning assistance, among other information.

Between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014, ServiceLink’s community centers fielded more than 83,000 calls, undoubtedly saving callers untold hours of time, worry and confusion.

The House budget eliminates this program entirely. In so doing, it saves $1.3 million in both 2016 and 2017, while losing $1.9 million of related federal funding in both years. Cutting critical parts of the state budget does not reduce the needs of seniors any more than cutting a family’s food budget makes anyone less hungry. We must do better.

As our senators take up the budget, we citizens should watch carefully and support them as they govern. We have a right to expect them to serve the ideals that make our state great, but we also have a duty to assist them in their tasks by providing information, input and encouragement so that they may uphold the ideals of good government as they govern.

We must set expectations of our elected officials and make those expectations clearly known to them so that they might serve us well, govern wisely and not – wittingly or unwittingly – cut lifelines to balance budgets. 

Todd Fahey is state director of AARP New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion