2013 Legislative Wrap Up: Seniors and People with Disabilities

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This is part of our 2013 Legislative Wrap series, where we’re giving the rundown on what the Oregonian Legislature accomplished across a range of issues and “grading” them on their work. For more in this series, hit the jump.

For the first time in several years, elected leaders chose to reinvest budget dollars into critical services for Oregon’s most vulnerable populations. – Dale Penn, Oregon Health Care Association, Campaign for Oregon’s Seniors and People with Disabilities

Close Up Portrait of Worried Senior CoupleThe budgets for services that protect vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities can be complicated, since they tend to include many different important programs and a mixture of dedicated and undedicated funding sources. The short story on this session’s treatment of these programs: Not too shabby.

Quick history: When Gov. Kitzhaber released his proposed budget last fall, before the session began, advocates for seniors and people with disabilities were happy to see that the Governor proposed funding those programs at a basically stable level—meaning no cuts to service levels for vulnerable populations.

But the first iteration of the legislative budget called for tens of millions in cuts, which would have triggered an astonishing loss of federal funds to services like long-term and in-home care for seniors. This would have come while low-income seniors are still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession.

However, advocates, like the members of the Campaign for Oregon’s Seniors and People With Disabilities, rallied and convinced the legislature to roll back their proposed cuts. In the end, these cuts were taken off the table.

Other important victories included:

• Despite temporary hostage-taking by legislative Republicans, reauthorization of the hospital provider tax, which raises money that gets more than matched by the federal government to fund critical Medicaid services (HB 2216)

• Fully funding Medicaid cost of living adjustments for assisted living and residential care services

• Adoption of the Community First Choice Option, which provides a 6% federal match for home- and community-based care services

• Partial restoration of in-home care hours and services that were cut in previous budgets

• Funding for the long-term care ombudsman program

Of course, it wasn’t all good news for retirees. Republican legislators, business lobbyists, and newspaper editors made it their mission to push through cuts to retired public employees’ pensions. By capping cost of living adjustments, these cuts will disproportionately affect low-income retirees by reducing their “buying power” as inflation drives up the cost of things like food, medicine, gas, and housing. And unlike people who are still working, it’s not like these retirees can find another job or source of income—they are the living embodiment of “living on a fixed income.”

The good news / bad news for these retirees is that when their pensions are no longer enough to keep them above the bare poverty line, there will likely still be a safety net system of senior care for them to fall back on.

GRADE: A High-Fiving Cat

cat high five

For more 2013 Legislative Wraps, check out:

Oregon K-12: Children Are the Future?
The Dirt on Oregon’s Environment
Higher Education: A Step in the Right Direction
Cutting Tax Loopholes
Economic Fairness & Consumer Protection
Other Important Bills

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