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'Sequester' won't hit state's seniors at harmful level

Mar 6, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Official says advance planning helped

Federal lawmakers have warned that cuts due to sequestration could have a negative effect on the country's aging population, but Wyoming health officials said the impact on local seniors should be minimal.

Tim Ernst, a deputy administrator with the Wyoming Depart-ment of Health Community Living Section, said senior citizens centers throughout the state are prepared to face the sequester because of proactive planning measures put in place last year. When he learned that cuts could impact up to 9.8 percent of his budget, Ernst said he reduced contracts for services by 8 percent at the end of 2012.

"That way our senior centers can plan ahead, and should the sequester not happen that money will still be available to them," he said. "But if it happens, they have a realistic budget to work with."

The federal cuts began taking effect March 1.

He noted that center directors likely planned more fundraisers to make up for the budget reductions, but Ernst said services to seniors were preserved for the most part.

Regarding meals specifically, he said every senior requesting food through his department has received it this year despite the proactive budget cuts.

"Currently we have no waiting lists for our nutrition program at the state level that I know of," Ernst said. "That's encouraging."

Actual cuts lower

On Tuesday he was pleased to report that the actual reductions coming from Washington, D.C., will not reach the 8 percent level.

"Today they gave us the official numbers," Ernst said Tuesday.

When it comes to food for seniors, he said the state's nutrition program will lose $194,000, or about 4.8 percent of its budget. For the Meals on Wheels home food delivery program, the 4.8 percent impact amounts to a $51,600 cut.

The budget for meals served regularly at state senior centers will be reduced by 4.8 percent as well, or about $104,500.

"So the good news is there is going to be money," Ernst said. "I'm sorry that this happened, but I'm excited we did that proactive approach."

He added that the 8 percent cuts his department made in 2012 will remain in place throughout the rest of this fiscal year.

"For us there will be no changes, absolutely zero changes in our contracts for fiscal year 2013," Ernst said.

"The funding for fiscal year 2013 is stable because we took that proactive approach."

Ernst pointed out that fiscal year 2013 is already halfway over.

"It just does not make sense for us to re-do our contracts (now)," Ernst said.

"So we're just going to roll that money into 2014."

He anticipates more cuts for the coming fiscal year, but Ernst said it is hard to gauge the scope of the possible reductions.

"I can't talk about 2014," he said. "But for 2013 (senior centers) are guaranteed the money (that they) have been contracted."

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