Senior programs could suffer on federal & state budget cuts - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Senior programs could suffer on federal & state budget cuts


The federal sequester, an impending set of automatic across-the board budget cuts, could slash money from local programs for senior citizens.

In northeast Iowa, the Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging's federal funds could be cut by about $270,000.

If those possible federal cuts weren't enough, Gov. Terry Branstad is proposing state funding cuts for senior programs, too.

Under the current budget proposal for next year, Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging, based in Waterloo, would lose more than $120,000 in funding.

The possible cuts come at a time when the agency is being required by state law to take on more responsibility by merging with two other agencies, bringing its service area up to 18 counties.

It's all pushing a discussion on major reductions for programs seniors rely on.

Betty Wilharm, 83, comes to the Waterloo Senior Center up to five times a week. After becoming a widow, the social connection provided here, she said, has been a lifesaver.

"It has changed me," Wilharm said. "My son was telling me I need depression pills, I should see the doctor. No! Not anymore! This took care of that."

James Rotsaert enjoys the low-cost meals served at the senior center.  The 80-year-old diabetic says he's learned the hard way that the healthy food and nutrition counseling offered by Hawkeye Valley are vital.

"I've had the misfortune of letting my blood sugar get low, and smashed my car up because I went off the road and I passed out," Rotsaert said.

But programs like this could soon become victims of budget cuts. The proposed state budget chops $600,000 from agencies supporting seniors statewide.

"We're looking at just over 17,000 meals we'd have to reduce, or a couple thousand hours of in-home support for folks," said Mike Isaacson, executive director of the Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging.

The average senior gets about $650 in services from Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging each month. But if they have to go to a nursing home for services, the cost skyrockets to $5200 a month.

That's more than eight times the cost -- shouldered by seniors, their families and taxpayers -- in Medicare and Medicaid costs without services like Hawkeye Valley's.

"I talk to people on a weekly basis that come into our meal sites or that we take home-delivered meals to that, if not for our services, they wouldn't get that food," Isaacson said. "And if we take that away, chronic conditions continue to multiply, and we end up in a system where we basically say we're not valuing that senior's independence, that senior's dignity -- and that scares me."

Isaacson says such dramatic budget cuts at the state level should be avoided, since Iowa currently has a record surplus of over a half billion dollars.

On Wednesday, he'll be taking a group of seniors to Des Moines to lobby for keeping aging funds in place, letting them explain how much they value those services.

It's estimated the proposed state funding cuts will impact over 48,000 Iowa seniors. Even more seniors could suffer with federal sequester cuts.

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