Governor’s budget priorities fair to senior citizens

Gov. Jay Inslee’s recently published budget priorities for the next two years maintain essential services to enable elders to age with dignity. His budget priorities would end the trend of reducing care that has occurred over the past four years of the great recession.

The governor’s proposal specifically rejects the concept that we finance court-ordered, and much needed, improvement for the basic education of our children at the expense of our elders. He calls for using the expected revenue growth from our slowly recovering economy to pay for essential services of state government.

He then proposes to continue certain taxes scheduled to expire in July, and to end a small number of tax preferences. These tax actions will raise more than $1 billion in increased funding for education.

Within the broad framework of the Budget Priorities there are a number of very smart choices recommended by the governor. He recommends that we expand the Medicaid Program as permitted under the national Affordable Care Act. This will enable several hundred thousand people to get health care coverage that will initially be paid for 100 percent by the federal government.

Many of these new enrollees will be older people not yet eligible for Medicare. Another benefit is that many poor and disabled people now covered by state financed health programs will be switched to the expanded Medicaid program, saving the state budget several hundred million dollars.

The governor recommends that we restore dental care services to adults covered by Medicaid. This care was mostly eliminated during the recession. Services for children were not previously cut. Dental care is a smart investment in maintaining whole body health and will reduce disease, pain and suffering.

It also will reduce costs for treatment of diseases that are a consequence of poor dental care.

He supports a small pay increase of about fifty cents per hour each year for frontline home care workers who help frail elders and people with disabilities to live at home for as long as possible. These wonderful care givers now earn about $10 per hour which is barely above minimum wage. They have not had a pay increase since 2008.

These workers are the backbone of Washington’s nationally respected elder care system. We are ranked second in quality, but thirtieth in per capita spending for long-term care services.

The underlying budget continues funding for the Senior Citizens Services Act. This is especially important due to the cuts to the Federal Older Americans Act now going into effect because of “sequestration.”

Services such as meals on wheels and adult day health are supported by this program. These services that help people to live at home will become even more important, and economically sensible, as our population ages. Over the next two decades our over-65 population will nearly double. By 2030, one out of every five of us will be 65-plus.

By adopting the governor’s budget framework and tax changes, the Legislature can enact a budget that does not put the interests of our children and grandchildren into conflict with the needs of our elders. The governor instead calls for all of us to carry a share of the responsibility.

There will clearly be much additional work required to properly fund both education and other essential services in future budgets. Nonetheless, the common good values and common sense choices displayed by Gov. Inslee are a very welcome and encouraging start to the process.

Jerry Reilly is Chair of the ElderCare Alliance. He can be reached at jerryreilly@msn.com