Budget cuts would decimate safety net programs

Apr 05, 2017

While it is just a proposal at this time, President Donald Trump’s federal budget cuts would not just snip a few links of netting in vital safety net services, but would dismantle them altogether.

Such actions would not only create unthinkable hardships for children and the elderly who can only stay warm in the winter because of government and private help for the low-income heating program, but would decimate other programs that are actually saving taxpayer money in the long term.

Take Meals on Wheels, for instance. By providing one hot meal a day to individuals who can’t leave their home without assistance, volunteers provide a needed lifeline that enables the elderly or disabled to age in place.

Those able to pay for the meals do so, but mostly those on meal delivery routes are low-income individuals who would be living in a congregate care situation if they could not stay at home. Instead of less than $30 to $40 a month for meals, the cost of long-term care can be up to $5,000 a month. About two-thirds of the Medicaid budget, a federal/state cost-share program for the impoverished, goes toward long-term care. Consider the ramifications on that program if in-home services are curtailed and there's a cost-shift to the more expensive — and least desirable — option.

Another program on the chopping block that can prolong, or perhaps avoid the need for long-term care, is the senior companion program where seniors are paid a stipend of $2.65 an hour to provide in-home services for those who couldn’t live independently without someone to do errands or drive them to medical appointments.

The nominal cost of this program also pales in comparison to that of a nursing home.

Haywood County is filled with generous people who will willingly sacrifice to help out a neighbor. But the size of the gap represented by the proposed cuts is overwhelming.

Reductions to Mountain Projects, Inc. programs are in the $2 million range, and the reduction in the winter heating assistance program administered by the county is nearly half a million. The community already fundraises to provide an additional $200,000 for the winter heating program.

Considering the many local programs already supported in the community — ones ranging from help for the elderly and homeless to those assisting children — expecting a $2.5 million charitable giving increase is not realistic.

This figure doesn't include making up for the massive decreases proposed to the Medicare and Medicaid programs that aid the elderly and the impoverished, respectively.

The one good thing is that members of Congress still seem to keep careful tabs on public opinion. When U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows was visiting the district last week, he noted that just 17 percent of the American public supported the American Health Care Act, a statistic that made him confident in his fight against the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

If enough people speak out against the proposed cuts, perhaps it will make a difference in this case, too.