President Obama’s 2012 budget is the latest indication of the growing pressures government-provided aging services will face in coming years. And as tight as his budget is, spending on assistance for poor and frail seniors is likely to end up much lower than Obama proposed. With congressional Republicans vowing to cut $100 billion from domestic spending over the remaining seven months of the current budget year, and even more from Obama’s proposals for next year, the future for federal funding for aging services is grim.
There is some good news for seniors in Obama’s fiscal plan. For instance, he has asked for a modest increase in home and community-based supportive services. However, the budgets for many other key programs, including Meals on Wheels and other nutrition programs, would be frozen. Respite care remains grossly underfunded, even though it received a modest budget increase.
On the other hand, Obama proposed cutting the major subsidized senior housing program (called Section 202) by $68 million from the 2010 budget and low-income energy assistance for those living at home by $2.5 billion. The community services block grant program would be funded at $350 million, just half its 2010 level. These are grants for local non-profits that provide housing, nutrition, and other supportive services for very low-income people, including seniors. Overall, Obama would cut the Administration on Aging budget by almost $181 million, or about 8 percent, from 2010 levels.
Keep in mind, though, that once Obama and Congress agree to a final compromise budget (probably sometime next fall) cuts will be deeper than Obama has proposed. Also remember that these cuts so far largely exclude changes in Medicare and Medicaid, which are exempt from the annual budget process but face enormous financial and political pressures of their own.
Worse, as federal budget pressures grow, these cuts are likely to be only one step in a long and painful process of scaling back government assistance for the elderly. As I have suggested in the past, in such an environment, it will be critically important for state and local governments, senior service providers, non-profits, and advocacy groups to rethink their own future roles in caing for our parents.