Nixon's withholding hurts Missouri seniors

Monday, July 15, 2013

Once again, Gov. Jay Nixon is wrongly withholding funds from the state budget that will hurt some of Missouri's most vulnerable residents.

Two years ago, Nixon unnecessarily withheld nearly $1 million in the budget allocated for the Meals on Wheels program that provides nutritious meals to homebound seniors. Under pressure from me and other advocates for seniors, the governor reinstated about half the funds for the program.

Last year we again fought, unsuccessfully, to get the governor to fully fund the program. As a result of Nixon's playing politics with the state budget, many seniors were forced to decide between food or medicine or utilities. Others simply had to do without and ended up in a hospital or nursing home, giving up one of their most precious possessions: their independence.

This year, the Missouri General Assembly set out to address the funding shortage and increased the budget for the home-delivered meals program by $440,000 in the session that ended in May. But once again, Nixon has withheld the funding.

The governor claims a tax-cut bill passed by lawmakers will result in revenue losses, which prompted him to withhold $400 million in fiscal year 2014 allocations. Republican leaders in both chambers of the legislature say they will work to override Nixon's actions during the veto session in September.

Unfortunately, home-delivered meals programs already face federal funding cuts as part of the sequestration, which forced senior services agencies to put homebound elderly residents on a waiting list for the meals program. Now those vulnerable seniors are being used by the governor for leverage in a political fight.

Not only is this immoral, it's bad fiscal policy.

Many seniors who lack a support system rely heavily on the home-delivered meals program. Not only do they get vital nutrition, the volunteers who deliver the meals are a crucial link to the health and welfare of the recipients of the meals. Drivers bring food every day and also observe the condition of their clients. If the elderly beneficiary doesn't answer a delivery, drivers report that. Thus, the volunteers provide food and a "safety check" for many older adults.

Without these vital services, many frail seniors are forced into much more costly long-term care in a nursing home or other health care facility.

A recent statistical analysis by Brown University revealed the more states spend on home-delivered meals, the more likely they are to help people stay in their homes. The research found that home-based meals programs were the only statistically significant factor among programs for seniors that affected state-to-state differences in low-care nursing home population.

Despite these facts, Gov. Nixon would rather hold vulnerable Missouri seniors hostage to his political ambitions.

Sadly, these budget cuts aren't necessary. State revenue this year is expected to exceed predictions by $600 million, and tax cuts Nixon claims will result in lost revenue won't go into effect unless state revenues continue to increase.

That tax-relief bill would give entrepreneurs an added incentive to fulfill long-held dreams of starting new businesses. It would help attract corporations -- and good-paying jobs -- to the state. It also would give hardworking Missourians a break, letting them keep more money to spend as they choose on goods and services in their own communities.

So not only is Gov. Nixon trying to take away one the state's strongest economic development tools in years, he also is holding Missouri's most vulnerable residents hostage in a political scrum with Republicans.

As the official senior advocate for the state of Missouri, I urge the governor to reinstate the money for Missouri's Meals on Wheels program. It is vital that our state's seniors who rely on this crucial program not be made pawns in a political chess game.

Peter Kinder, of Cape Girardeau, is the lieutenant governor of Missouri.

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