KUOW radio aired a three-part series on aging in late April that featured Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens intern (and jobseeker) Katherine Kirsch in the story “Work: The New Retirement Plan.” A story on affordable housing for seniors, “A Quiet Crisis,” refers to the Seattle Human Services Department’s Aging & Disability Services (ADS) division projections that the number of seniors living in poverty will double by the year 2025. A third story, “Who’s Caring For The Caregiver?”, discusses services to help caregivers cope with stress. KUOW reporter Ruby de Luna worked closely with ADS staff on these stories.
On April 12, the State Legislature reached agreement on a budget and revenue package, and for the most part, human services were spared from drastic cuts. Legislators were faced with a $2.8 billion shortfall and ended up using a combination of additional federal funds, new tax revenues, budget reserves and targeted program spending cuts to close the gap. Here is a summary of how key health and human services fared in the process:
- GAU now “Disability Lifeline”: General Assistance-Unemployable (GAU) benefits were preserved at lower level than budgeted; the program was also reorganized and renamed “Disability Lifeline”; in one new measure, cash assistance and medical care are now limited to 24 months within a 60-month period, potentially cutting off 1,000 people in King County.
- Housing Trust Fund: $30 million was appropriated for low-income housing instead of the hoped for $100 million; of this amount, $25 million will support workforce housing.
- Early Learning: Four important bills supported early learning, including making voluntary pre-school available to all at-risk three- and four-year-olds by 2018; directing the Department of Early Learning to develop a comprehensive birth-to-three plan, establishing a workgroup to develop a comprehensive plan for a voluntary program of early learning, recognizing that early learning has a major impact on basic education; and, extending the time low-income families can receive state-subsidized child care, starting with children in preschool. Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) was cut by $193,000.
- Basic Health Plan: Fully funded. Some public health programs experienced cuts, including dental programs, tobacco prevention, colon health program.
- Senior Citizens Service Act: Preserved at current funding level.
- Medicaid: Adult Day Health was retained and a slightly lower level. Slight decrease in home care rates and hours for some clients. Case management stays at current rate.