I am Althea Taylor-Jones, a tax paying citizen of the great state of North Carolina since 1971. I have contributed to the progress of this state in many capacities: public school teacher, correctional program supervisor, rehabilitation counselor and counselor-in-charge, director of University Counseling Services and college professor and administrator.
Since retiring from active employment in the public arena in 2009, I have served as a volunteer advocate on behalf of our precious “seasoned citizens” (older North Carolinians) with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, the Senior Tar Heel Legislature, AARP North Carolina, AARP Forsyth Chapter # 1797, the Forsyth County Aging Services Planning Committee and the Senior Tar Heel Legislature (member of Enrichment Opportunities Committee, chairperson of the Health and Wellness Committee and speaker pro tempore).
As the budget was evaluated, I requested and trusted that cuts would not be made to the Home and Community Care Block Grant program, which provides services to older adults and supports their family caregivers, or to Medicaid for aged, blind and disabled adults. Both the Block Grant and Medicaid are critical lifeline programs to many seniors and those who have disabilities. Therefore, I asked that due diligence be given to these citizens in the current budget and in future budgets. However, I was highly disappointed when the budget was presented and signed by Governor McCrory on Aug. 7.
I am grateful that reductions were not made to Medicaid, but it was quite devastating that due diligence was not given to the critical fact that the number one issue for AARP, the Senior Tar Heel Legislature and other advocacy groups was funding for the Home and Community Care Block Grant program, which also provides home and community-based services for people 60 and older. Currently, there are approximately 16,000 people on the waiting list statewide for services funded by the program like home-delivered meals, in–home personal care, adult day health, transportation, congregate nutrition sites, senior centers. These funds are typically targeted to older adults who are socially and economically needy but not eligible for Medicaid. Priority is given to those who are victims or are at-risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Funding for the Home and Community Care Block Grant was reduced by almost $970,000 on a recurring basis, which could cut services for an estimated 1,500 older adults. We, as members/advocates of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature, had urged the General Assembly to appropriate at least an additional $7 million to meet the needs of the rapidly growing older adult population. However, rather than increasing the much needed funding, this marks the third state reduction of this vital lifeline for seniors since 2008. The cut of nearly $1 million comes at a time when North Carolina is seeing a dramatic demographic shift. Currently, we have more residents 60 and older than 17 and younger residing in 59 of our state’s 100 counties. This number is projected to increase tremendously by the year 2019.
Support for senior centers is another priority of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature. However, the decision executed by the General Assembly’s appropriation of $100,000 for senior center capital projects is perplexing, to say the least. It is all but impossible to equitably dispense such a diminutive amount within our 100 counties and among approximately 160 senior centers.
A third and very critical issue also resurfaced – amending laws governing product liability by removing the consumer’s right to seek legal recourse in the event of harm or death caused by adverse drug reactions. This measure was opposed by AARP and other advocacy groups. However, Senate Bill 648 was passed without the objectionable provision related to product liability for drugs.
I am concerned that those who have dedicated their working years as educators, healthcare workers, business and community leaders and other givers to their families, friends, communities, state and nation for generations are being disenfranchised.
I am appealing to our elected officials to engage in a dialogue with their conscience and offer a lifeline to humanely remove the tire marks inflicted upon our seniors by the wheels of complacency and injustice, as a result of being thrown under the bus!
Dr. Althea Taylor-Jones is a certified gerontologist and a Forsyth County Delegate for the NC Senior Tar Heel Legislature. Reach her at email@example.com.