2009-07-23 / Front Page

Pa. State Budget Impasse Affects Aging Budget

By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

The failure of the state Legislature to adopt the budget is undoubtedly having an effect on numerous organizations and groups, including our own Area Agency on Aging, which took steps last week to prepare for the delay in needed funding.

In sitting down with commissioners from Fulton, Huntingdon and Bedford counties, Aging Executive Director Alan Smith said since the commonwealth's budget impasse was not resolved by Friday, July 17, the release of state-approved funding will not occur until at least mid-September.

Even though the agency can fall back on utilizing a credit line in the amount of $750,000 through Susquehanna Bank to meet its monthly bills, the interest payments in conjunction with spending the line of credit could begin to add up.

According to Smith, the interest attached to borrowing the money could accrue to between $5,000 and $6,000. That money would obviously be better spent on services for the aging community, said the director, who added the agency is also still awaiting receipt of $220,000 from the state in payments linked to the shared ride and medical assistance waiver programs.

Smith told the "News" the delay adds to the "economic hardship" already in existence across the commonwealth. Delays could result in tax hikes for some Pennsylvania residents.

Furthermore, the delayed release of money will also likely result in late payments by the agency to various contracted vendors, such as food service provider PCN, which has worked side-by-side with area senior centers dating back to 1996.

One positive note to the situation is that the Area Agency on Aging and the shared ride program are not slated to see any allocation cuts, in part due to the popularity and ongoing "success" of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

There is a possibility, though, that Human Service Development Funding (HSDF) could be totally eliminated and would result in an approximate loss of $90,000 for the tri-county area. HSDF money is annually earmarked for adult transportation programs and home-delivered meals here in Fulton County, and also on congregate meals at senior centers in neighboring Huntingdon County. In the event HSDF money is no longer available, the Agency, Smith stated, would be put into the tough position of considering fare increases or copayments as the funding is a revenue source for transportation.

In connection with the discussion on lines of credit and the budget impasse, the commissioners approved the agency's amended budget totalling $6,360,116. The largest line item expenditure included in the budget is passenger transportation at $1,935,452 and congregate meals and personal care, respectively following at $880,569 and $666,902.

In reviewing the 2008-09 fiscal year for the agency, a total of 104,449 trips were taken. The number of trips, however, did decrease over the winter months and is believed to be linked to "people buckling down possibly due to the state of the economy," said Smith. New clients served were recorded at 2,272 for the year, with a definite jump between February and March 2009 with the creation of a "March Madness" promotion that eliminated fees for center-related trips.

Smith and the commissioners also touched base on the ongoing relationship with food service contractor PCN, which was granted a one-year contract extension with an overall 4 percent increase. The increase brings the price of senior center meals to $3.15 per meal, while the agency will pay am additional $3.27 per meal for frozen, home-delivered meals.

A total of 1,632 individuals consumed 86,191 meals at the centers located in Fulton, Huntingdon and Bedford counties, service statistic reports show for FY 2008-09. In addition, 27,396 meals were delivered to 202 individuals.

Smith said agency officials are also waiting to see how an issue related to milk consumption at senior centers pans out. The Department of Aging is revising nutritional standards that could eventually eliminate serving a half-pint of milk with every meal. To compensate, Aging is suggesting having milk available in half-gallon and gallon containers for those interested.

The local Advisory Council comprised of area seniors has recommended to continue serving the milk in half-pint containers to those wanting it, even though it has been noted a portion of those individuals take the milk home for their coffee, cereal and even for their pets. Smith concluded while they await a final decision by Aging, possibilities such as serving yogurt or ice cream several times a week as a replacement for the milk is being considered as well.

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