WILKES-BARRE — The lunch crowd at the Charles T. Adams Senior Center had a guest speaker Monday, and the attendees liked his message.
Gov. Tom Wolf stopped by to tell the 75 or so senior citizens how his 2017-2018 budget proposal will help improve the quality of life and care and benefit choices, for the 2.9 million 60-and-older Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth.
Wolf was joined by Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne to outline the initiatives in his 2017-2018 budget proposal that he revealed last Tuesday, calling it a new way forward for Pennsylvania’s seniors.
“I think he has some very good ideas,” said Sharon Bubb, of Nanticoke. “I’m glad he’s trying to get the state budget under control. He wants to cut the fat and put money where it belongs.”
Bubb and Denise Wallace, of Wilkes-Barre, said Wolf appeared to be sincere in trying to improve the quality of life for seniors.
“Over the past two years, we have shown our commitment to our children’s education, our seniors, those suffering from the effects of the heroin and opioid abuse crisis, and our workers,” Wolf said. “This budget continues that success, while creating a new way forward for the commonwealth, and placing us on secure financial footing by saving taxpayers over 2 billion dollars through cuts, savings and efficiency.”
Wolf said by consolidating four state agencies and creating the Department of Health and Human Services, older Pennsylvanians will have one point of service that will result in less confusion and easier access to programs they need.
He said the Department of Health and Human Services will build on the his administration’s commitment to streamlining government programs while preventing instability of healthcare and protecting Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Currently, Wolf and Osborne said, older Pennsylvanians have to work through multiple agencies for the health and human services that they need.
The 2017-2018 budget creates a new, unified Department of Health and Human Services that consolidates the Departments of Aging, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health and Human Services in order to dramatically improve the state’s ability to deliver services that will improve lives.
Wolf said older Pennsylvanians will now have one point of service with the Department of Health and Human Services, resulting in less confusion and easier access as constituents and their families seek services.
Wolf’s plan, however, must be approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. Wolf addressed that by stating there shouldn’t be any push-back to his consolidation proposal.
“There should be bipartisan support for this,” Wolf said. “It would be difficult for anyone to oppose what we’re trying to do here. I think most will feel it’s a good idea to protect seniors, take care of education, fight the opioid crisis and create jobs.”
Wolf wants to trim $2 billion from the budget and he hopes to accomplish that by doing more without increasing revenues. He said he will not raise taxes to reach his goal.
“The Wolf administration is focused on serving and protecting older Pennsylvanians, and the governor’s proposed budget articulates our shared commitment to ensuring that seniors have access to the services and supports they need to age in place with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Osborne said.
Seniors will not see any cuts to their programs due to the creation of this new department, and it will have no impact on how lottery fund monies are used to support senior programs. In fact, senior benefits and programs will be bolstered by the focus of a single agency, according to Osborne.
Wolf said the state at one time had $1.5 billion in its rainy day fund, but that amount has dwindled to just $235,000. He said he hopes to get the fund up to $5 million by 2022.
“That’s the reality of where we are,” Wolf said. “We’re at a point where we must figure out what to do. We will not raise taxes.”
Wolf’s 2017-2018 budget also builds on his commitment to enable citizens to age in place by preventing instability of health and wellness and protecting the most vulnerable from abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation.
To strengthen programs for seniors, Wolf said his budget implements Community Health Choices — a program that will improve services for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians by allowing people to stay in their homes as they age.
It also builds on the Wolf administration’s push to serve more than 65,000 older Pennsylvanians and people with disabilities in their homes and communities instead of in nursing facilities.
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Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.