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Letter: Senate bill would severely harm care for older adults

Older adults want to remain living in their own homes and communities. Not only is this important to the older adult and their caregiver, it is a benefit to the community and is more cost-effective for the state. Unfortunately, the ability to remain at home is threatened by the Minnesota Senate (Senate File 760), which has eliminated the State Caregiver Grants and the grant to the Senior LinkAge Line (SLL).

The elimination of the State Caregiver Grants ($953,000 for the biennium) will result in the loss of the entire federal Older Americans Act Caregiver Support allocation made to Minnesota ($4.2 million for the biennium) because of Maintenance of Effort requirements. Statewide, caregiver support services, such as in-home respite care and caregiver counseling, will end for 8,436 caregivers who need help caring for an older loved one. The Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging Inc. funds eight caregiver support projects. In the nine counties of southwestern Minnesota, the continuance of two projects will be jeopardized should this funding be eliminated. They include RSVP Respite and Counseling provided by RSVP of Southwest Minnesota in Cottonwood, Lincoln, Murray, Nobles, Redwood and Rock counties and the One to One Transition Program provided by Western Mental Health Center in Lyon County. Without the services provided by these projects, caregivers will be put at risk, and there will be an increased likelihood that care-receivers will require placement in a congregate living setting -- ultimately at a greater cost to the State.

The elimination of the grant to the SLL, ($1.842 million for the biennium) will reduce the capacity of the SLL by 50 percent. Through this grant, individuals can access assistance with their prescription drug coverage. The SLL also provides assistance to older adults, family members and caregivers who need help locating community-based services and selecting the most appropriate Medicare Part D coverage. Statewide in 2010, this would have meant that 66,473 of the 119,162 calls made to the SLL would have gone unanswered.

The budget challenges faced by Minnesota are daunting, but it is critical that citizens, local elected officials and legislators understand the consequences of eliminating the State Caregiver Grants and the grant to the SLL. Their elimination will undermine over a decade of statewide efforts made to reduce the cost of long-term-care for older adults through the development of local, community-based services -- services that are both effective and cost-efficient for Minnesota.