Monday, February 25, 2013

What effect will the looming March 1 sequestration have on seniors?

Congress gave itself a deadline to come to agreement about the federal budget. It has pushed the deadline back, several times, actually. If it does not pull out a last-second budget deal seniors deserve to know how sequestration will effect them, and it's not easy to figure out.

First of all, just for the curious, why is it called "sequestration"? This actually goes back to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985, in which Congress decided it should put a limit on the total budget outlay rather than just keep making it a function of the total of millions of lines of expenses resulting from multiple individual appropriations processes. Congress develops this limit early in the process by passing a Budget Resolution. Then if all the subsequent appropriations add up to more than that previously-set limit an automatic cutting process takes place across most (but not all) federal spending. They call it "sequestration" because the different between the total appropriated and the Budget Resolution limit is not disbursed but rather is held by the US Treasury, sequestered, while each federal agency reduces its budget equally to account for the shortfall. But there are a few large and notable federal programs that are exempt from the sequestration, so the do not suffer the across-the-board budget reduction.

If it's been the law since 1985 why haven't we had these sequestrations before? Because the intention of the law was to create pressure on lawmakers to resolve their disagreements and pass budgets to avoid the harshness of sequestration. They have successfully done that most of the time until now.

Here are a few of the programs that benefit seniors that are NOT effected by sequestration:
- Social Security
- Veterans pay
- SNAP (food stamps)
- Medicare coverage (there is a small reduction in provider reimbursement but no coverage change)
- Medicaid coverage

What will be cut that is important to seniors? Many senior services offered by county senior programs and WV Senior Legal Aid, including nutrition, transportation, some in-home services,and legal services will be cut perhaps by as much as 7.8% The exact calculation is not totally clear yet. Other services like Low-Income Energy Assistance (LIEAP), Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), the regional Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, senior HUD housing, and many more will be cut. Federal workers will be furloughed (forced to take temporary unpaid leaves) starting in April.

There is a lot at stake. You can find contact information for West Virginia's senators and house of representatives members here


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