Nick Beamer wasn’t exactly celebrating when Initiative 1107 was approved by a 60- percent margin in Washington last November.
The repeal of a tax on candy, soda and bottled water may mean cheaper junk food across the state, but for agencies like Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington, where Beamer has served as director for the past 23 years, the vote translates into a financial hit.
Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposed supplemental budget for 2011-11 included a $1.72 statewide cut in senior services with the ripple effect costing ALTCEW as much as $162,000. Statewide, the decrease for senior services is anticipated at $1.1 million for the 2011-13 biennium.
“It’s disappointing,” Beamer said. “Now, we’re just trying to campaign for the funding we had.”
The news wasn’t all bad on the budget front, however. The proposed supplemental budget for family caregiver support recommends funding at last year’s levels while there is a $3 million increase in the works for 2011-13.
With a new legislative session unfolding, Beamer will join other representatives from the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging later this month in Olympia for “Senior Lobby Day.” Delegates will talk to legislators about issues like funding for in-home care, one of the areas that faces cuts in the supplemental and biennial budgets, as well as protections against senior abuse, neglect and scams. The group – comprised of 13 organizations representing various regions of the state as well as tribal interests – meets monthly to discuss issues affecting Washington’s seniors.
“People talk about what’s happening in their area,” Beamer said. “It’s more like a work group where we share stories.”
Through programs like Care Cars and Meals on Wheels, agencies like ALTCEW work to keep elderly residents in their homes. Beamer said that, in the long run, such efforts save the state money by reducing the costs that result when seniors transition into assisted living centers. Approximately 26,000 residents throughout the state benefit from subsidized in-home care across Washington.
When he visits the state capital on Feb. 26, Beamer will advocate for a number of budgetary initiatives, including a request to invest $6 million in the 2011-13 biennium to boost the state Senior Citizens Services Act. He will also talk to legislators about a 6.3 percent cut in the supplemental budget as opposed to Gregoire’s proposed 30 percent.
Beamer is also encouraging local seniors to contact government representatives by phone, e-mail or old-fashioned letter to voice concerns they may have about potential cutbacks. He said correspondences can include “information about what a service means to them” from meals to education about fall prevention.
“We’re working on it,” Beamer said of the campaign to involve area residents. “We’re letting them know advocacy is needed.”
In the meantime, ALTCEW has been restructuring programs to deal with budget shortfalls. At Care Cars, a new policy of providing transportation to disabled residents 18 and over who do not qualify for paratransit has resulted in increased funding to the tune of $194,000 over two years. The collaboration included groups like the Spokane Transit Authority and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. Meanwhile, the time donated by volunteers goes toward an in-kind match.
“We realized here’s a way to bring something to the community,” Beamer said.
Another ALTCEW program – the Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisory group – has been able to add to its budget through implementation of a incentive-based contract correlating with the assistance offered to low-income residents. SHIBA provides a free guide to seniors navigating the maze of Medicare.
Despite the fiscal hurdles, ALTCEW continues to offer a variety of innovative services for local seniors, including a chronic care case management pilot being utilized by four agencies throughout the state. Under the program, residents with conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and severe obesity receive consistent and detailed resource support to address treatment strategies.
The success rate has been soaring among the 45 patients in the region taking part in the program.
“It’s about working with a client to set goals and help individuals manage that condition,” Beamer said. “They’re checking in, so there’s an accountability piece in place.”
As for the future, Beamer said he and the ALTCEW staff of around 60 will continue to strive diligently on behalf of area seniors. Although there have been no jobs impacted to this point, Beamer did introduce a cut in pay step increases for 2011 along with other budget concessions.
“We have conversations about the budget and how that will affect us,” Beamer said. “We’re just out there doing the best we can.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about the programs offered by Aging and Long Term Care or to receive information on senior advocacy, call 458-2509 or visit www.altcew.org. For help regarding Medicare questions, contact the State Health Insurance Benefit Advisory group at the number listed above or 1-888-562-6900.