Deirdre Wheatley-Liss: Sequester Cuts Hurting Seniors

Will the ridiculous gridlock in Washington that has a sledgehammer instead of scalpel being used to address the cancer of  a bloated budget affect your world immediately?  As a working adult or family, likely not,  For seniors, the cuts could have a more immediate and devastating effect.  Most seniors are living on fixed income – their resources don’t change just because their expenses for necessities goes up. recently talked about what the sequester cuts could mean to seniors.  Is there a family member in  your life who might suddenly be struggling just to speak to a person to get care they need or are entitled to?

As a consequence of congressional gridlock, $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts are starting to take effect. We’ve heard the dire warnings about the impact: air travel delays, 70,000 children forced out of Head Start, cutbacks in food inspections, understaffed fire departments, 700,000 fewer jobs created . . . the list goes on.

How will programs that seniors rely on be affected? The good news is that big chunks of the budget are exempt from the sequester’s cuts, including Social Security, Medicaid, and veterans’ programs. But while there will be no change in benefits for these programs, the federal workforce that administers them will be slashed, leading to delays and frustration.

In the case of Social Security, for example, visitors to field offices or callers to the program’s 800-number will have longer waits, and some offices may close altogether. Checks for first-time Social Security beneficiaries will take longer to arrive and the backlog of Social Security disability claims will start ballooning again.

Medicare benefits will not change either, but there could be more crowded waiting rooms and fewer practitioners participating in the program because payments to Medicare providers will be cut by 2 percent across-the-board. Doctors and hospitals say the Medicare reductions will cost their industries more than 200,000 jobs this year alone. The 2 percent cut for doctors follows a series of previous reductions, which may translate into more doctors refusing to take Medicare patients.

Where the Real Pain Would Be

The harshest impact will be on seniors who rely on federal programs to keep fed, stay warm (or cool), perform basic tasks like dressing and bathing, and keep in contact with the outside world.

Senior nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels face cuts resulting in 18.6 million fewer congregate and home-delivered meals, according to Amy Gotwals, senior director of public policy and advocacy at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Meanwhile, an estimated 400,000 households will be severed from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which assists low-income seniors and other households with their heating and cooling bills.

Other vital services administered by Area Agencies on Aging will be cut, including rides to medical appointments or shopping trips, and in-home support for daily chores like dressing, cleaning, or cooking. 

More questions?  Look at AARP’s “What the ‘Sequester’ Could Mean for You,”  or The New York Times “Questions and Answers About the Sequester”

Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss is a shareholder of the Law Firm of Fein, Such, Kahn Shepard, P.C., with offices in Parsippany and Toms River, New Jersey. She concentrates her practice in the areas of Elder Law, Estate Planning and Administration, Business Planning and Tax Law. Deirdre’s individual clients range from their 20’s to their 80’s and beyond, while her business clients range from start-ups with exciting new ideas to 100+ year old business ventures. Clients seek Deirdre’s advice and assistance with a variety of planning issues relating to identifying and meeting their personal, family and business goals, whether in a planning or crises situation.

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