Report on how the federal shutdown affects older adults

This week’s shutdown of the federal government has some very real and immediate impacts on the nation’s older adults. Money funneled through the Older Americans Act for meals, caregivers, legal help, and family caregiver training will soon dry up, according to a report in the Eureka (Calif.) Times-Standard.

Other programs, like energy assistance for low-income families, which help pay heating bills, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which provides cash to the impoverished, and Social Services Block grants, which help states fund initiatives like elder abuse programs and senior services, will be hit hard if the impasse continues for any length of time.

Money for many of these programs ran out at midnight on Sept. 30; because they are either discretionary, or require re-authorization, they’re at a standstill until an appropriations bill is passed. Some local programs which rely on partial federal funding for vital senior services like Meals on Wheels  face the daunting prospect of temporarily halting operations. However, spokespersons for other organizations say they’re OK for now.

The website tells visitors that information may not be current because of the shutdown, and instructs them to check the site for the latest news. The Veterans Administration has halted many activities, including shutting down call centers and regional centers, and may soon curtail compensation, pension, and other veterans benefits — which many older adults rely on. However Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s Brian Timulty writes that in New York state, the V.A. already has its 2014 funding and foresees no immediate impact on its 16,000 hospital and clinic workers.

Social security checks will keep going out, and mail delivery continues; however SSA field office services are limited. An article in the Christian Science Monitor points out that since Medicaid payments are issued to states quarterly, those benefits continue unaffected for now. Medicare payments also continue without interruption. However, new applications may not be processed until the crisis passes, since many workers are now on furlough. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded through October, which means individuals and families continue to receive food stamps for at least another month.

Leisure and recreational services – national parks, the National Zoo, the Smithsonian museums, and other federal venues where older adults spend discretionary dollars, are closed until further notice. Seniors hoping to travel overseas should expect delays in passport application and renewal processing.

HHS issued detailed contingency staffing plans for the shutdown, which include furloughing more than 40,000 employees – about 52 percent of its staff. Additional program suspensions with particular impact on older adults include:

  • Senior Nutrition Programs
  • Elder Abuse Prevention Programs
  • Community Service Block Grants
  • CDC Influenza Program assistance to states
  • AHRQ Patient Safety and infection monitoring
  • Medicare and Medicaid provider certification or recertification, potentially affecting access and availability of care
  • Most FDA public health surveillance and reporting

The Administration on Aging has this rather ominous notice on their website:

Due to the absence of either a fiscal year 2014 appropriation, or a continuing resolution for HHS, the regular operations of the Administration for Community Living have been suspended. As such, content on this website is not being regularly updated. If you need assistance in accessing services for older adults, please contact the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. Due to the suspension of operations, the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act Anniversary celebration previously scheduled for October 4, 2013 has been cancelled.

The Office of Management and Budget has compiled a list of links to other federal agencies’ contingency plans.

There are numerous local story angles to pursue during the appropriations stalemate. For example,

  • Look at the impact on local programs and services for seniors.
  • Talk with some local non-profit senior service organizations – have they had to curtail operations?
  • Speak with seniors who receive nutritional and other important health services – how are they affected?
  • Talk to local, regional, and state agencies – will cities/states pick up some of the slack?
  • What about care delivery? Have hospital EDs seen an increase in older adult visits or admissions in the past few days? If so, why?
  • Have services for older veterans been affected? What are local VAs doing to adjust?
  • How about the business side of the story? For example, even something simple like seniors canceling travel plans to national parks or other federally-run facilities affect local companies, as well as those in and around these parks.
  • Break out which senior programs in your area are federally, state, or locally funded for your readers. Help them understand how this shutdown may affect them or their loved ones.

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