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Seniors say budget cuts hurting the state’s elderly

PHOENIX — One hundred years old and legally blind, Lucille Myers couldn’t travel to the State Capitol from her Phoenix home Wednesday, so her caretaker, Cyndy Scheidle, made the trek to Senior Action Day for her.

State funds allow Myers to remain in her home while Scheidle checks in to help with groceries, laundry and prescription pickups. So when Scheidle heard the program was in danger due to state budget cuts, the Surprise resident wielded a picket sign bearing Myers’ face to lobby her legislators.

“It’d sure make her living situation difficult,” Scheidle said. “We keep seniors independent in their own living environment so they don’t have to go into nursing homes or assisted living.”

Cuts of $153 million from the Department of Economic Security’s fiscal 2009 budget have left many seniors lacking essential services, said Lupe Solis, associate director for advocacy for AARP Arizona, which organized the event. More cuts in fiscal 2010 would be devastating, she added.

“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness and consciousness,” Solis said. “The aging community cannot afford any more cuts.”

Several dozen sign- and banner-bearing seniors from around the state marched around the Capitol esplanade, chanting slogans and chatting up their legislators.

AARP estimates that the home-care system that serves nearly 8,000 people statewide costs Arizona $2,200 annually per person compared to upwards of $24,000 annually per person to house a senior in public long-term care facilities.

Dick Morse of Peoria, the 82-year-old federal liaison for AARP Arizona, said caring for seniors in their own homes is a win-win.

“We’ve got a general legislative goal of protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens,” he said while manning an information booth in front of the State Senate building.

Many attendees came north via bus from District 23, which covers most of Pinal County and parts of Gila and Maricopa counties between Tucson and Phoenix.

The district’s representative, Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, came down from her office to join her constituents. She said cuts to Meals on Wheels, state facilities and senior transportation programs are on the table this year too.

“Do they expect these people to become homeless transients living on the streets?” she said. “We need to make their today the tomorrow that they worked so hard to achieve.”

McGuire added that the cuts affect rural Arizona the most.

“Rural areas suffer, I think, more hardship than the urban areas,” she said. “Urban areas have more resources.”

Winkelman resident and World War II veteran Gordon Tebben, 88, said he and his 92-year-old wife, Belan Cluff, are lucky enough to enjoy a pleasant retirement. Unfortunately, he said, some seniors in his area aren’t so lucky.

“It’ll hurt them most,” he said. “The politicians always talk about how they’re going to hit the rich. Well, it’s a reverse in this situation.”

Dale Vaughan, a 77-year-old Mammoth resident, said he hopes Gov. Jan Brewer accepts the maximum federal stimulus dollars possible and allocates some for seniors. He said he doesn’t understand concerns that some GOP leaders nationally have raised about strings attached to stimulus money.

“I think that’s a bunch of malarkey,” he said. “They should match any fund that the federal government is offering.”


Arizona’s senior citizens

— By 2020, 26 percent of Arizonans are expected to be over the age of 60. That figure stood at 17 percent in 2000.

— By 2030, the number of Arizonans over age 65 is expected to equal that of children 17 and younger.

— In the decade leading up to 2005, the number of Arizonans over age 85 increased 82 percent, more than any other age group.

Source: Aging 2020, Arizona’s Plan for an Aging Population, Governor’s Office.

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