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More Money Possible for Senior Services

Lobbying effort pays off for home- and community-based care

Advocates for Colorado's older residents sighed in relief when Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law the $19 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Although the budget did not increase funding for home- and community-based services for seniors, it didn't cut it, which had been a possibility.

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They were even more pleased because a successful eleventh-hour lobbying effort by AARP Colorado and other groups set the stage for additional money to flow to senior services. The provision, which received bipartisan support, requires that unclaimed funds in the state's Senior Property Tax Homestead Exemption — which pays a portion of the taxes of those who apply — go to Colorado's Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) to help provide services to help people stay in their homes.

Although it is unclear how much money will be available, the amount unclaimed in 2008 (the last year the exemption was funded) was about $770,000.

Show of support

AARP Colorado and other groups had kept up pressure at the statehouse for months, pushing for an increase in the approximately $9 million in various parts of the budget that fund home- and community-based services. When it appeared money for senior services might be slashed, AARP Colorado organized a show of support — busing more than 80 older people to the Capitol from around the state.

In the end, the funding remained. Kelli Fritts, AARP Colorado's advocacy director, described the outcome as a victory in a year of cuts elsewhere in the state budget. But even maintaining previous funding levels is insufficient at a time "when there have been such dramatic increases in requests for senior services that the waiting lists are often weeks or months long," she said.

Colorado's population of residents 60 and older has been growing much faster than many other states and will continue to do so: The state's Older Americans Coalition projects a 50 percent increase to more than 1.2 million by 2020 — about 4.5 times the growth rate of younger age groups.

In May there was a two-month waiting list for home meal delivery and three months for visiting nurses in the Denver area, said Jayla Sanchez-Warren, director of the AAA at the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

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"If you need one of these things, you need it now," she said. "We haven't been able to immediately meet [the] need for several years," and the delays are growing longer with each month. "We've got 1,100 people on the waiting list for hearing aids, glasses and dental [care] in the Denver metro area."

Services in demand

Similar situations exist throughout the state, said Fritts. "Everyone has become very, very creative in Band-Aiding things together" when older people request information about how to access and receive meal delivery and in-home services such as housekeeping and personal care. But many cannot keep up with demand.

Dorothea Yancy, 74, of Lakewood, promptly received assistance with getting services a few years ago from a Denver-area senior resource center that receives state funds, and it worries her that so many seniors in need now do not.

Yancy retired from the retail industry confident she had put away enough for a decent retirement, but the curdled economy crushed her cautious planning, and she has needed help several times to pay her heating bill. The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program covered her shortfall at a time when her ability to stay in her rental house and continue to take care of herself was threatened.

"The last thing people who have worked their whole life want to do is ask for help," she said. But if a little assistance can keep an older person at home and self-reliant, "that's a goal worth achieving."

Sharon L. Peters is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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