Congress is about to agree to a bipartisan budget for 2014 that will at best freeze federal spending for many critical senior services. In a few cases, the fiscal plan will increase funding a bit from the low levels driven by last year’s across-the-board “sequester” spending cuts. But for the most part, programs will have to meet growing demand for services with the same budgets they’ve had for the past several years.
Lawmakers often say they want to make it easier for seniors and younger people with disabilities to live at home. It takes a substantial infrastructure of housing, transportation, meals, health, and information services to make that possible. But when it comes to funding these supports, Congress is missing in action.
Here are a few examples of what the senior services budget will look like in2014 (courtesy of the National Council on Aging):
Supportive Services: This is a key program aimed at helping people with disabilities and the frail elderly remain at home. It provides grants to states for transportation, case management, information and assistance, in-home services such as personal care, legal and mental health services, and adult day care. Funding for 2014 will be about $348 million—exactly what it was under the 2013 sequester and about $20 million less than in 2012.
Meals on Wheels. Home-delivered nutrition programs will get about $216 million in 2014. That’s about $11 million more than under last year’s sequester, but the same as they got in 2012.
National Family Caregiver’s Support: These federal grants to states to help hard-pressed caregivers with information services, counseling, and respite care will get about $146 million this year—exactly the same as in 2013 and $10 million less than in 2012.
State Health Insurance Assistance (SHIP) This key program provides counselors to help seniors and others understand the complexities of Medicaid and other benefits. Its budget is frozen at $52 million.
Community Services Block Grants: These provide states and communities with funding for a wide range of services aimed at helping people in need, including employment, education, income management, housing, nutrition, emergency services, and health. It will be funded at $674 million—an increase of $40 million over 2013 but no more than in 2012.
A few programs did get additional funding this year. The biggest winner was the White House’s Alzheimer’s Disease initiative (the so-called war on Alzheimer’s). It received $14.7 million, a big increase over the $4 million it got in 2012 and the $200,000 it got under the sequester. Most of this money will go to fund drug research.
Overall, the Administration for Community Living—the federal agency that operates most senior services programs (though not the Community Block Grants) —got about $1.7 billion. That’s $400 million less than the White House requested and only about $54 million more than what the office got last year.
The 2014 budget reminds me of one of the most important lessons in Washington: When it comes to policymakers, pay attention to what they do, not what they say.
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