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Budget cuts affect aged

Various agencies in the state continue to prepare for financial cuts due to Gov. Bob Riley's recent declaration that cuts need to be made in various areas to create a sound financial situation.

Among those programs preparing for less dollars are aging programs.

On Wednesday, the Alabama Association of Area Agencies on Aging (a4a), which represents the State of Alabama's 13 area agencies on aging in all 67 counties, announced the impact of Riley's proposed 2004 budget cuts on senior services.

The areas for aging are charged by the Older Americans Act to be advocates for the state's 783,000 senior citizens and improve the quality of life for those over 60 years of age.

These programs are provide services such as legal assistance, insurance counseling and Alzheimer's Disease intervention.

According to a release from the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, proposed 20 percent reductions for 2004 would reduce the budget for the Alabama Department of Senior Services budget by over $2,000,000.

Due to this reduction, the state will lose $7 million in federal dollars. This cumulative effect would be a total loss of nearly $10 million dollars previously used for senior services.

With these moneys no longer available to the a4a, approximately 350 employees working locally at area agency offices and senior citizen centers providing meals and transportation as well as other services would be laid off.

Approximately 60 senior center and 800,000 meals will be abolished with the cuts.

Some 650 of the state's most frail Medicaid Waiver clients would be eliminated from the program and losses such as this could prove devastating to a segment of Alabama's population that is extremely vulnerable.

Riley commented in his State of the State Address on March 4 that if spending policies of the past were continued in the state, this would dictate drastic financial cuts in the upcoming fiscal year, including 450,000 losing the access to healthcare because of lack of funding for Medicaid programs.

To avoid these type of cuts, Riley said it is imperative to change the system of government in Alabama, and demand that years of waste and inefficiencies come to an end, while establishing a government that is accountable to the people it serves.

Riley said his administration is working on plans to control the growth of medical costs for

state employees and for Medicaid.

Some local aging program representatives said they are hoping the budget cuts do not translate into major problems for their individual programs.

"If there are cuts, it would absolutely hurt us," said Betty Laird of the Florala Senior Adult program. "If our funding gets cut, we won't be able to continue programs such as provide transportation to our (senior program members).

Dianne Jones, who is the director of the Adult Activities Center in Andalusia, also said she is concerned about the possibility of cuts.

"Of course we are concerned (about possible cuts) because we offer such a valuable service," said Jones. "A major concern for us would be the 50 in-home meals we serve daily to those who are homebound. We have received no official notification, however, as far as possible cuts as of yet."

Jones said she is not overly concerned about the transportation aspects of her program as the City of Andalusia funds the program, but said the meal program is a very critical service.

"Absolutely, the meal program is one that we would be very concerned about losing funding because it is not a luxury, but a necessity," said Jones.