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Funding for senior programs at risk in Pennsylvania Commentary Ashton Theodore- Randle

February 20. 2013 1:02AM
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Older Americans in Pennsylvania will soon be the next victims of budget and revenue shortfalls that are hitting state capitals across the country. Many senior services such as; in home care services, drug assistance programs, long term care assistance, transportation assistance programs and many more are under pressure in the state of Pennsylvania. There are currently 5,000 Pennsylvania seniors on waiting lists to receive program benefits, and that number has grown by 52 percent over the past two years. Unlike many other states where governors and state legislatures need to slash programs to be more fiscally responsible, senior programs in Pennsylvania are at risk due to shortfalls in revenue projections from the Pennsylvania State Lottery.

Health professionals in the state of Pennsylvania that work with these populations are extremely concerned. Many seniors on fixed incomes use these programs as supplements to gain basic necessities such as medications and assistance on property tax relief. For many Pennsylvania seniors, the decision between food and medication is far more the norm than the exception.

The establishment of the Pennsylvania lottery in 1971 was created to address major senior economic issues. The lottery remains the only designated revenue generated to provide property tax relief for Pennsylvania seniors, [and] funded programs have grown to include rent rebates, free and reduced-fare transit, the low-cost prescription drug programs PACE and PACENET, long-term living services, and the 52 Area Agencies on Aging, including full- and part-time senior centers across Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Lottery Commission.

With an expected increase of 900,000 seniors to the population in Pennsylvania by 2030 a viable solution should be examined to save funding for these critical programs. For many states around the country that have seen declining revenues from state lotteries, lottery privatization has been the best solution. Illinois and Indiana have recently been privatized to create secure and increasing revenue projections for the senior and youth programs that rely on those funds.

The Pennsylvania government is examining the option of privatization following the state lottery revenue shortfalls and the fact that there are a fast-growing number of dependents entering these programs. Governor Tom Corbett said Our states fast-growing population of older adults means time is not on our side and we need to maximize funding for senior programs and service in a way that does not ask taxpayers to dig any deeper into their pockets. Many seniors in Pennsylvania depend on these programs and it is important that the Pennsylvania government examines the best options to keep revenue secure for these programs.

As a person that works with health professionals addressing the needs of senior populations, we see these services being delivered every day. The threat of funding shortfalls to these programs is of great concern to my colleagues and the populations they serve. It is paramount that Pennsylvania comes up with a sensible solution to secure increasing lottery revenues to fund these vital programs for the seniors of Pennsylvania.

Ashton Theodore-Randle is the Director of Government Affairs at the Case Management Society of America, representing the interests of nurses, case managers, care coordinators, community pharmacists and other health professionals working to coordinate Medicare and Medicaid care for seniors.

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