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By Thomas Goldsmith

Federal dollars will keep flowing to North Carolina’s popular Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program, or SHIIP, and other aging programs following passage of the $1.3 trillion federal budget for 2018.

Activists for older people had swung into action after the U.S. House and President Donald Trump initially proposed cutting all funding for the national Medicare State Health Insurance Program; instead, the federally funded program saw its annual appropriation increased by $2 million to $49.1 million.

Other programs intended to benefit seniors, including the Senior Community Service Employment Program and funding for Social Security Administration, also survived proposed cuts in the budget bill Trump signed Friday. And community-based, federally funded programs such as Meals on Wheels, congregate meals, senior centers and caregiver support programs saw multi-million dollar increases instead of proposed cuts.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat who had introduced legislation to keep SHIIP up and running, said Tuesday through his office that he was “extremely pleased” with the bill’s inclusion of increased funding for SHIIP and several other aging programs. National advocacy groups that had urged older people to lobby their congressional representatives during the budget battles also expressed approval.

“This is a critical win for older adults, their families and the organizations that serve them,” said Marci Phillips, director of public policy and advocacy for the National Council on Aging, said Tuesday. “Important health and economic security programs were preserved, and investments will allow some programs to begin meeting the growing needs of older adults in their communities.”

North Carolina’s SHIIP program cost about $1.3 million in the current budget year, a figure that doesn’t take into account the efforts of volunteers across the state who help clients work through complex Medicare signups. Some clients come back annually for advice on Medicare hospitalization and drug programs, which have coverage provisions that can shift dramatically from year to year.

The programs for older people made few headlines in light of other, massive appropriations such as the record $700 billion in defense spending.

The fate of programs aiding seniors that survived, according to a list of priorities by the National Council on Aging:

  • Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps low-income older people get and keep jobs, got level funding at $400 milion instead of a proposed $100 million cut. Eleven North Carolina organizations working in 25 counties received the SCSEP-provided salary subsidies, which allowed for about 1,140 North Carolina people aged 55 and older to receive job training, re-training and support services so they could find employment.
  • Chronic Disease Self-Management Education, “an effective self-management education program for people with chronic health problems,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The program received $8 million worth of funding, keeping it at last year’s level, instead of a proposed $3 million cut. Last year, 34 health care and social service agencies around North Carolina received funding through the program.
  • The Community Services Block Grant funds Community Action Agencies that meet “employment, housing and crisis prevention needs” for low-income people according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The program received level funding of $715 million despite proposals of elimination by the White House, a $115 million cut by the House, and a cut of $15 million by the Senate. In 2017, North Carolina agencies received a total of $26.9 million in grant funding to provide services.
  • Social Security Administration administrative funding, proposed for a $400 million cut by the Senate, was increased by $480 million.

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Thomas Goldsmith

Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...