The Alzheimers respite program known as Project CARE has gained broad support for its work of providing a break to caregivers for people with dementia.
But many aging advocates say that a state Senate budget proposal to increase funding for Project CARE from $500,000 to $2.9 million would come at the expense of more than 20 other services for older North Carolinians from home-delivered meals to adult day care to rides for people with medical appointments.
More than 15,000 people are on waiting lists for those services across the state. Counties take the lead in picking the services that residents need most among those supported by the Home and Community Care Block Grant, which is composed of state, federal and local funds.
In Wake County, the block grant cut of $300,000 in state funds along with an ongoing $100,000 decrease because of federal sequestration policies would mean a loss of about 32,000 home-delivered meals in the fiscal year beginning July 1, said Alan Winstead, executive director at Meals on Wheels of Wake County.
Some of our people call, and they have a very short-term and immediate need theyre having surgery and are unable to drive, Winstead said. Those people will have to look for other services.
Though other agencies can offer food to clients, theres no other source for home-delivered, prepared meals, he said.
Visits from one of the many Meals on Wheels volunteers in Wake provide significant regular nutrition and check-in for more than 1,200 clients, such as Raleigh resident Hattie Thorpe, 78.
Theyre so nice and sweet, Thorpe said. They come every day, except on the weekends.
Support for Project CARE
Senate budget writers say the $2.9 million decrease in the block-grant fund will allow a fivefold increase in Project CARE, for Caregivers Running on Empty.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, said expanding the respite program will allow it to serve caregivers across the state instead of those in the about 25 Project CARE counties. Respite services are available in some other counties through other programs.
Our point of view on putting money in the budget is that were prioritizing for services being used statewide, Hise said. There are counties that do not provide respite care.
Mary Bethel, a lobbyist for AARP in North Carolina, said aging-advocacy groups fully support Project CARE, but they dont want it to be funded through money thats needed for a range of other services.
Hise pointed out that the state would still pitch more than $26 million into the total $60 million block grant fund. Planners want to make sure services are equitably provided, he said.
Although it could have a stark impact on older people seeking to live independent of institutional care, the dispute over how to fund social services represents a relatively small piece of the negotiations over next years budget among House and Senate budget writers and Gov. Pat McCrory.
McCrorys budget set aside $500,000 from sources other than the block grant to continue Project CARE, with plans for future expansion in the works at the Division of Aging and Adult Services.
Advocates for older North Carolinians met Thursday with state Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Wake County Republican, to urge her to work to restore the money that Senate budget writers set aside from the fund. Efforts to reach Avila for comment were unsuccessful.
More resources are needed
David Cottengim is president of Resources for Seniors, the agency responsible for providing many of the Wake County services, as well as co-chairman of the GOLD Coalition, another nonprofit advocacy group.
Aging advocacy groups support increased funding for both the home and community care block grant and for Project CARE, Cottengim and GOLD Coalition co-chair Liz Scott said this week in a letter to The News & Observer. With the increase in the older adult population in the state the population of those 65-plus will almost double in the next 20 years from 1.3 to 2.3 million and the continuing rise in the cost of delivering services, more resources are needed to help those who need assistance.
State figures show that 7,000 fewer people get help from the block grant with home care, transportation, adult day care and other services than did 10 years ago.