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State budget cuts hurt senior citizens

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POSTED: February 18, 2009 10:13 a.m.
Proposed budget cuts to state-funded programs could soon affect some of Georgia's most needy residents.
As state lawmakers try to figure out how to pull the state out of a $2.5 billion sinkhole, programs that support senior citizens are taking huge hits.
The 2009 General Assembly has been in session for four weeks and, already, advocates for elderly services say state legislators have proposed cutting $18.9 million from much needed services that assist seniors. "We're seeing cuts to programs such as Meals on Wheels, adult day care programs and respite care," said Sharon Dickol, the director of the Coastal Georgia Area Agency on Aging.
The agency statewide has reported it will see a $7.87 million dollar deficit in 2009 if the proposed cuts are made.
The lack in funding could eliminate more than 138,000 meals for Georgia seniors while leaving others with no choice but to live in nursing homes, according to Dickol.
"For most of our seniors, the meals that they get every day, this is their only nutritious meal for the day. They might not eat otherwise," she said.
"And it is not just about the food, it's also about the human contact," she continued. "These programs also serve as a safety net. If a worker shows up and the elderly person is having a problem, [that worker] can get help for that person."
From Feb. 24-26, lobbyists and advocacy agencies for senior citizens will take to the state Capitol to kick off the state's Senior Citizens Week.
Advocates said they hope the week will make their voices heard before the final budget cuts are voted into law.
"We are not asking for more money than what we had," Dickol said. "But we would like to see them restore the cuts that the governor has proposed."
On Jan. 29, during a Be There 4 Seniors rally that launched a three-week advocacy campaign leading up to Seniors Week, some state senators and representatives vowed to do all they could to ensure some of the $18.9 million is restored.
The task, according to Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, and Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, could be easier said than done.
"We've got a $2 and a half billion budget deficit," Williams said. "Everybody is going to feel some hurt."
"The general assembly is facing tough choices," Johnson said. "And that has to be spread all over Georgia. Nobody is going to be protected."
Still, he and Williams both said the newly passed stimulus package might bring relief.
"I don't think that it directly addresses those programs, but maybe it will free up some money so that it can be used for other programs, such as those that assist the elderly," Williams said.
"If we can use it for those programs, we will," Johnson said. We are not going to turn down free money."
 

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