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Seniors' Programs Squeezed as Congress Approves 2012 Budget

In the end, plan cuts 0.2 percent from 2011 budget

Knudsen says the lack of action on government spending is dangerous. "We have an immense deficit and debt problem that is getting worse," he says. "This is a lousy time for Congress to lose its grip on budgeting."

Gearan says the Social Security Administration did not get enough money for its administrative costs to keep up with demand. The increase of $43 billion for the Social Security Administration was short of the nearly $350 million needed just to keep up with cost increases such as higher rent. Already, the number of applicants for disability is rising quickly, and the average wait for claims is 500 days. He says 25 percent of applicants "will die before they get their disability claim completed."

Gearan says he also was disappointed that the Social Security disability program's integrity efforts were slashed from $756 million to $274 million. The money is used to make sure recipients are really disabled and saves taxpayers $7 to $10 for every $1 it costs, Gearan says.

One bright spot in the spending bill, he says, was that efforts to slash the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were squelched. The agency is charged with protecting consumers from unscrupulous mortgage companies and creditors. "Seniors are the prey of choice for many con artists," Gearan says.

Some programs were funded as part of earlier budget bills, such as the food stamps program and a housing program for older people. Food stamps received an increase; the housing program lost its money for new construction.

Gearan says he's glad many budgets didn't get cut more but still worried about programs not keeping up with a demand that is rising because of the struggling economy and the influx of boomers.

"These programs are not the source of the fiscal problems of the federal government," Gearan says, noting many of the programs have been pinched since 2000. "But they have borne the brunt."

Also of interest: AARP CEO: "Older Americans need health care, retirement security."

Tamara Lytle is a Washington-based writer who has covered Congress and politics for more than 20 years.

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