Local director says funds needed after Senate votes to lift Family Care Cap
BY BILL GUIDA
The director of a local non-profit agency said Friday a bill pending in the Legislature to remove the enrollment limit for long-term care programs will need increased funding to remove hidden financial restrictions before the increasing demand for senior services can be met.
The state Senate unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday that would remove the enrollment cap from Family Care and other programs.
Last year, Family Care was capped to 43,000 participants, the number of people in the program as of July 2011, under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget. Family Care provides ongoing care resources for the elderly and low-income adults with developmental disabilities or physical disabilities. The program allows participants to live in their homes instead of a nursing home.
Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, a federal organization, called for Walker to remove those limits in December. About 6,000 people were on the state’s waiting list for the program as of October. Walker announced the cap would be lifted and state officials had identified $80 million in savings over the next two years to facilitate that change,
The lift on the enrollment cap still needs the approval of the state Assembly to become official.
Gary Brown, executive director of Kenosha County Family and Aging Services, Inc., said Kenosha County was fortunate because when the cap was enacted, unlike elsewhere in the state, the county had no waiting list of people needing services. That wasn’t by chance, according to Brown.
He credited LaVerne Jaros, Kenosha County director of aging and disability services, and her staff for anticipating the effects of the cap by making a concerted effort to enroll more people eligible for services. Enlarging the rolls before the cap was implemented built sufficient capacity to provide services.
“New people were coming into the program and other people were leaving. So, we never reached the top number where we had to start a waiting list, which is what happened in several other counties,” Brown said.
However, there is a bigger problem with Family Care negatively affecting Kenosha County more than the cap now in place, according to Brown. He cited his agency’s Meals on Wheels program, which provides home-delivered hot meals to elderly residents, as an example.
“What we’ve seen in 2010 and 2011, with the trend continuing in 2012, is we’re serving fewer people now,” Brown said. That’s because the private agency contracted by the state to administer the programs has not gotten funding increases from the state the past three years despite continued growth in demand for services, he said. The agency “is rationing services in my opinion,” Brown said.
He said the cap removal would theoretically allow serving an unlimited number of eligible clients, but the fiscal reality is the funding isn’t there to make that happen.
“As the need grows in the community, it puts more pressure on our organiztion and others in the community to come up with the resources, through fundraising or whatever, to provide food” and other services to those eligible for such assistance, Brown said.