Susan Kohler Commentary: “Legislature”

Good evening. This is Susan Kohler, CEO of ; the Area Agency on Aging for Missoula and Ravalli Counties. Tonight I want to discuss what the aging network is requesting for support at the State Legislature.
Yesterday I joined colleagues from around Montana to testify before the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services about our funding needs. This was an important opportunity to let the committee know how state dollars make a difference in the lives of older Montanans.
The Area Agency on Aging Association, consisting of 10 areas across the state and their partners, are advocating for two main priorities. First is to have the label “One Time Only” removed from our $3 million statewide request for funding. This is the fourth session during which the Area Agencies on Aging have had to go to the legislature to ask for $3 million dollars, which for six years now, has been designated as “One Time Only. Why continue to get this label on critical funding that is for ongoing support of our services? The second priority is to ask for an additional $3 million for the biennium. This extra funding is needed to remove waiting lists which have cropped up due to the erosion of the original $3 million we have received for six years.
Area Agencies are the focal points for state and federal funding. We contract with senior centers, county Councils on Aging, home health organizations and other businesses to provide supportive services to older adults living in our service areas. Missoula Aging Services serves Missoula and Ravalli Counties; some of my rural peers cover anywhere from 11 to 17 counties in their service areas. We provide services to individuals regardless of income however we have to provide subsidies for those individuals who cannot pay the full amount of the services. We help older adults and those who care for them navigate the complexities of long term care services, and provide respite to those caring for an older adult with Alzheimer’s or other related dementia. We provide Meals On Wheels, homemaking services, personal care services, Medicare and Medicaid consultations, transportation and congregate meals, among others.
We also support Senior Corp programs– volunteer programs administered either directly by our agencies or partners. You may have heard of Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP. These programs address the issues of social isolation and potential depression in older adults by providing opportunities to put their skills and interests to good use. Volunteers with these programs not only feel productive, they also help meet critical community needs and deliver needed services to others.
Last year the Area Agencies on Aging network served 58,105 older adults and those who care for them in Montana. Although most are older adults, we also see their adult children seeking guidance and support for their parents. It is important to know that most families still help to support their aging parents but they don’t always live in the same town and are often juggling multiple priorities in their lives.
The Aging Network looks at funding as a partnership. State-wide, the order of support from most to least is as follows: The federal government is Number One. Second is local government, including county and, sometimes, city funding. A close third consists of program income and donations. Program income includes what older adults pay towards services they receive–some pay the full amount and others pay what they can afford. State funding is fourth. In the case of Missoula Aging Services, United Way is included in this mix, along with generous community donations of $100,000 annually to keep our Meals On Wheels program whole. We fund-raise much more than that to support other vital services, too.
Even so, under the current state funding scenario our service area already has a waiting list for homemaker and respite services, and Ravalli County currently has no resources to provide respite services for caregivers. The state is aging significantly, with the fastest growing population being 85-year-olds and over. It is no secret that older adults do better if they can remain at home. It is less expensive to provide support to them there than to prematurely place them in institutions like nursing homes.
This brings me back to the Aging Network’s two main priorities at the Legislature and what you can do to help. I invite you to advocate for Montana’s older adults by contacting the members of the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. Ask them to support the removal of the One Time Only label for our current $3 million, and to increase our funding by $3 million for the next biennium. If you have questions about how to do this, contact your local area agency on aging by calling 1-800-551-3191.
Susan Kohler is the CEO of Missoula Aging Services.

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