Story last updated at 1/14/2009 - 10:37 am
Older Alaskans living in many areas of the state will likely see reduced services next year, unless the Governor and Legislature increase funding for senior grants.
Nutrition and transportation services, senior centers, information and referral, care coordination, chore, respite, adult day and health promotion services are among the services that could be cut. Particularly the villages, bush and small rural communities will be affected, due to a new funding formula contained in a State planning document.
Alaska's State Plan for Senior Services (2008-2011) includes a funding formula which is designed to assist in a fair allocation of funds for nine regions throughout Alaska. In addition to total senior population of a region, the formula gives extra weight to the number of low-income seniors, the number of minority (non-white) seniors, the number of seniors age 80 and older (those more likely to be frail), and the number of seniors living in areas considered rural. A funding formula is required in order for the State to receive federal funds which pay for a significant portion of the senior grants.
According to the 2000 Census, seniors age 65 and over comprised 20.5 percent of the population in Haines, a higher proportion than any other census area in the state. The senior population in Haines is certain to increase. However, because of the State Plan funding formula, fewer grant funds will be available to provide senior services in that community. This is one example of a community with more seniors but fewer funds to serve them.
The State Plan explains, "While no region of the state is seeing an actual decrease in its number of seniors, some regions are growing at a much faster rate than others." Older Alaskans from the villages or bush are having to move to more populated areas to obtain needed services. Preservation of rural programs is essential to prevent greater numbers of seniors from moving away from their home communities in order to obtain the services they need.
Regions to receive a decrease in funding include Bethel/Wade Hampton, North Slope Borough, Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay/Dillingham/Kodiak/Lake and Peninsula, Nome/Northwest Arctic, and Southeast Alaska, from Yakutat to Metlakatla. Fairbanks, Kenai, and Matanuska-Susitna will see an increase in funds.
Although the State Plan on Senior Services must adjust funding to support those regions with the greatest growth in the number of vulnerable seniors, the State Plan Advisory Committee attempted to phase in the new formula slowly so that regions scheduled for less funding could attempt to find replacement funding. The State Plan took effect on July 1, 2007 and, for the first two years, all regions were "held harmless", receiving the same amount they received under the old state plan.
The "new plan" formula will be phased in July 1, 2009, with 50 percent of the change (increase or decrease) implemented, followed by the remaining formula change beginning July 1, 2010.
"The Alaska Commission on Aging advocated for, and the Legislature approved, an additional $1 million in funding for senior grants beginning July 1, 2008," explains Denise Daniello, Alaska Commission on Aging executive director. "The Commission and its advocacy partners are working to obtain $2 million more for these essential programs so as to prevent an actual funding decrease in any region."
Marianne Mills is the Program Director of Southeast Senior Services which offers home and community-based services for older Alaskans throughout the Southeast region. She is currently serving as President for AGENET, Alaska's Association of Senior Service Providers.