Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How One County Plans to Provide Elderly Services amid Federal Cuts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How One County Plans to Provide Elderly Services amid Federal Cuts

Article excerpt

ALMOST every day the bus that takes Olivia Coggins to the cramped senior center in East Point, Ga., slowly drives by a construction site still littered with debris.

It doesn't look like much now. But Ms. Coggins and the other seniors on the bus ogle the new Fulton County senior center with the rapt anticipation of teenagers checking out a new shopping mall.

The $2.3 million H.J.C. Bowden Center - due to open next month - is one of five multipurpose senior centers Fulton County, Ga., is building. It is, say county officials, the biggest county-funded construction program for seniors in the nation.

The goal is to serve area seniors better by clustering services in one spot. At each center, retirees will be able to pay utility bills, visit doctors or dentists, eat meals, use a therapeutic pool, check out a library book, and participate in a host of recreational and educational activities.

Fulton County's initiative puts it at the vanguard of innovative local government efforts to improve services to the elderly at a time when Washington is expected to reduce federal aid to this segment of society and distribute funds through block grants to the states.

County government's, which are responsible for providing many of the services to senior citizens, are expected to have less money to meet citizens' needs under the block-grant formula.

"Counties are very concerned," says Sandra Markwood, a program director of volunteerism at the National Association of Counties in Washington.

In an effort to balance the budget by 2002, a Republican-led Congress is aiming to trim the fat off government. It is proposing to trim three programs that would affect seniors: Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act. Medicaid, an entitlement that currently pays for about 75 percent of the nursing-home costs for the elderly, would get cut by $182 billion under the Republican plan. Medicare, which also provides health care to the poor, would take a $270 billion hit. A House committee has voted to cut the Older Americans Act by $100 million, a move that could eliminate elder-abuse dollars, preventive health-care money, and nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels that help homebound seniors. …

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