Seniors to legislators: Cuts in services worrisome

Laura Pryor's husband died five years ago. Without his pension, the 76-year-old said she depends on the care of her son Randall, and Meals on Wheels.

"I pray for whoever is responsible — the government, organizations — to keep this going," Pryor said Monday night. "It means too much to too many people."

Seven state legislators came to a public forum at the Downtown Senior Center next to Seneca Park to listen to Pryor and other people who receive services for the aging that are threatened by state budget cuts.

"They deliver so much more than just a meal," said Gladys Jackson, 90. "They're checking on us also, and I appreciate that because I do fall a lot."

Pryor, Jackson and others said they could not continue to live at home without the services such as Meals on Wheels.

That program alone serves 2,300 meals a day in a three-county area. Last year, seven nutrition sites had to close because of budget cuts, said Annette Graham, executive director of the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging.

They expect to slash more if expected state budget cuts go through.

"When we cut those services we risk those people having to go into a nursing home," Graham said. "That's not only more costly to the state, it's also a quality of life issue."

Within the next 10 years, she said, the population needing these services will grown by more than a third — 39.3 percent.

"When we're looking at long range, you cut these services, you cut funding, you actually cut into the infrastructure in this system," Graham said. "Home health agencies close, providers are no longer available. So when that money becomes available again, it's not as easy as just flip the switch and they're there again."

Legislators will go back to work next week, trying to carve out a state budget.

"This is the first time in my 10 years that we went home without a budget after the first recess," said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita. "It hasn't been done lightly, but it is difficult. And every agency has been cut. We really hope we can come up with a solution that will not hit Meals on Wheels, the aging services and social services as hard as they've been hit."

Schodorf was the only Republican attending the forum, along with Wichita Democratic Reps. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Nile Dillmore, Judith Loganbill, Melany Barnes, Geraldine Flaharty and Jim Ward.

"We're going to see an argument over policy vs. politics," Loganbill said. "These services are about policy."

Ward said the legislators who attended Monday's forum face stiff opposition from the many more lawmakers who weren't there to answer questions.

"No one is going to show up here and say they aren't for poor people, or old people," Ward said. "But we're coming up on test day, like we had in school, and you need to pay attention to who votes to fund these services and who doesn't."