OP-ED: Wolf budget protects Pa. seniors


Gov. Tom Wolf's budget is one that truly plans for the future of our commonwealth. By the year 2020, more than one in four Pennsylvanians will be age 60 or older. One of the governor's top priorities is to provide greater choice and more opportunity for older Pennsylvanians as they age, especially as it relates to home- and community-based services such as transportation, insurance counseling and meals, among others.

The past four years of state funding cuts have forced so many human services providers to make difficult decisions. These decisions cut to the core of our collective ability to provide services to many of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable citizens.

The governor's proposed budget restores funding for county human services agencies that were significantly cut by the prior administration in 2012-13. Gov. Wolf's budget takes significant steps to protect seniors as it expands long-term care for older adults who want to access services and supports in their homes, and it provides much needed property tax relief for seniors on fixed incomes.

Gov. Wolf's budget expands home- and community-based long-term care programming by allowing more than 5,500 additional individuals to obtain care in their home this year. With this expansion, more than 50 percent of residents receiving long-term care will do so in a home or community setting. For every month a resident receives care in the community as opposed to a nursing facility, the commonwealth is able to save $2,457 per month. In expanding home- and community-based services to more than 5,500 residents, the commonwealth is offsetting more than $162.2 million in nursing care costs.

Under his plan, 270,000 seniors will see their school district property taxes eliminated, home- and community-based services will be expanded, including protections for those who need to access long-term services and supports. These services include enhancing the provision of home modifications, which can allow older Pennsylvanians to remain in their homes and communities instead of living in a nursing home.

While budgets of the previous administration cut funding for many human services programs, the present Republican budget includes no new funding for county-run programs, and continues to reach deeply into the Lottery Fund in order to reduce General Fund spending on Medicaid expenditures.

As a former director of a county human services program and administrator of a county Area Agency on Aging, I understand and respect the critical role counties play in the delivery of human services and programs and recognize fully that counties and their local community partners are doing and will do all they can to take the necessary steps to keep agency doors open.

They do so under incredibly difficult circumstances, as cash flow issues may result in slower payments to vendors, loans taken out, money borrowed and reserves tapped.

— Teresa Osborne is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.