Dorothy Wiles enjoyed an active life until progressive arthritis made it difficult for her to get around. These days the 84-year-old Columbia retiree relies on a walker and can't easily shop for groceries and fix her meals. Home-delivered meals have helped Wiles continue to live in her home. "It's really been a blessing," she said.
But cuts in the state budget mean other people who need similar help won't get it. The state has not reduced services to people like Wiles who already receive them, but no new recipients are being added to the program, said Tony Kester, director of the Lieutenant Governor's Office on Aging.
The office provides money to a network of nonprofit agencies that help older people remain at home longer. The agencies deliver meals or help get seniors to a community center for communal meals, provide rides to medical appointments and sometimes perform light housekeeping tasks.
The state's spending on such home- and community-based services (HCBS) has been cut in half since 2009, from $2.9 million to less than $1.5 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year that began July 1.
When the legislature meets in January to adopt a 2012-13 budget, Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, R, will propose nearly $6.5 million for HCBS programs, Kester said.
AARP South Carolina endorses Ard's proposal for the $5 million budget increase.
Ard warned that without additional money, "it will be difficult to continue providing the services for a growing number of seniors in need of assistance, and many will have to be institutionalized in expensive facilities using taxpayer-funded Medicaid services."
Although eligibility for services financed by the Office on Aging is not based on income, nearly six in 10 who received home-delivered meals last year lived in poverty, Ard wrote in a justification for the additional HCBS money.