2011 was a year of dramatic budget battles and clashes over government spending. Many programs affecting seniors were cut as a result of the budget battles, while others were left unfunded. Here are a few programs that were affected.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
This program helps those with financial need pay their heating and air conditioning bills. Many of those enrolled in the program are older Americans. The fund is receiving approximately $1.2 billion fewer dollars in funding this year than it received in 2011—a total of $3.5 billion in funding for 2012.
The Older Americans Act Program
While it’s been a grim year for many government programs, it could have been worse.
The Social Security Disability Program
This program got an increase of $43 billion, which sounds pretty good—but it’s about $350 billion short of what’s needed to keep up with rising costs. In addition, as more and more people apply for disability benefits, the average wait time for claims reimbursement has increased to more than a year.
The Senior Community Service Employment Program
This is a work and community service training program designed to improve the employment prospects of Americans age 55 and older who are looking for a job. As part of the budget cuts over the past year, this program’s funding was slashed by 64%.
Community Service Block Grants
This program provides funding to Community Action Agencies and other organizations that work to alleviate poverty in local communities. The funds are distributed by the federal government to individual states, Native American Tribes, and various US territories and commonwealths based on the population of residents in poverty. In 2011, the President proposed a 50% reduction in funds for the program.
The Social Security Administration
Social security was cut by approximately $1 billion when Congress passed its 2011 budget in April. The effects are already being seen, resulting in abandoned construction projects, a backlog of claims, and a freeze in hiring at many agencies. Some locations in more remote areas are now open only a few days a week or a few days a month.
The Qualified Individual Program
This program assists qualifying seniors in paying for Medicare Part B premiums. Congress passed a bill to extend the program until February 29, and is now working to pass an extension that will cover senior premium payments on a long-term basis.
Medicare Physician Payments
Politicians struggled last year over whether to significantly cut physician payments under Medicare. In the end, Congress deferred the cuts, but kept physician pay frozen until 2013.
The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Program
This was a voluntary long-term care insurance program passed as part of the Affordable Care Act that would have allowed people to plan financially for long-term care needs at home. The program has been suspended, and there are representatives in Congress who are pushing for its repeal—although a viable alternative solution has yet to be offered.
While it’s been a grim year for many government programs, it could have been worse. Belt-tightening has affected statewide programs as well as those that are federally administered, but Medicare and Social Security have yet to be eliminated entirely. Still, it may be a good idea for seniors who depend on government programs to do some research into politicians’ positions regarding funding or cutting the programs that are important to them as part of their voting decisions.