Congress has again frozen funding for most senior services programs, from Meals on Wheels and other nutrition programs to falls prevention and state health insurance assistance programs (SHIPs). This has been the trend throughout most of the Obama Administration. But it may be about to come to an end, as we near a time when federal funding for senior programs is not frozen, but cut—hard.
In the new budget approved by Congress over the weekend a few programs got some extra dollars, and a few were trimmed. The highest profile cut: Congress eliminated all $3 million from President Obama’s funding request for next summer’s planned White House Conference on Aging. However, congressional aides expect the White House can still cobble together money needed to run the conference, though it is likely to be a shoestring operation.
Other big losers included the Aging and Disability Resource Centers that provide information and referral services throughout the country. They received $6 million in the just-passed appropriations bill, but Congress has not yet approved an additional $10 million in mandatory spending for the program.
Overall, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), the federal office that runs most programs for seniors and younger people with disabilities, got roughly the same money for 2015 that it had for 2014. For a nice summary of funding for major senior programs, take a look at this summary from the National Council on Aging
This chart shows the recent trend for major senior programs. ACL funding fell sharply in 2013 as a result of Congress’s across-the-board spending reduction known as the sequester. While some funding has been restored, the office is still operating with less money than it did 4 years ago. Funding for other seniors’ programs, such as Community Services Block grants and elderly housing, has barely budged from 2011 levels even though 8,000 more Baby Boomers turn 65 every day.
Among other important programs, the National Institute for Aging at NIH saw its $665 million budget increased slightly, with some new funding for Alzheimer’s Disease research. The Community Services Block Grant and Social Services Block Grant programs, which fund many state and local senior initiatives, got the same funding for 2015 as they had in 2014. However, The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an important support for poor seniors who live in cold climates, was cut by about $34 million.
A few programs got additional funding compared to last year. One big winner was Section 202, which subsidizes rental housing for low-income seniors. That program, which is often critical for frail elders who want to remain in their communities, got $420 million, about $35 million more than last year.
Washington’s broader politics, however, suggest that federal senior services, along with many other domestic programs, may have reached funding peaks. Key supporters of these programs, including senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have retired and advocates have been unable to identify lawmakers likely to make the same commitment. Republicans who now have control of both the House and Senate have made cuts in domestic spending a top priority.
And President Obama has never been a strong supporter of many senior service programs. Indeed, in several cases, including Community Service Block Grants, home energy assistance, and senior employment programs, Congress added money to the White House requests. In what are likely to be intense 2015 battles over spending, few expect the White House to put much effort into preserving funding for senior services.