Reprinted from the Des Moines Register March 15.
The GOP’s dedication to tax cuts and starving government has resulted in huge cuts to agencies designed to help vulnerable people. Unfortunately these agencies are headed by political appointees who do not consider seniors a priority either.
The Iowa Department on Aging now has 17 employees. Nine years ago it had 40 workers. Yet Director Linda Miller said she has not asked Gov. Kim Reynolds for additional funding, partly because the governor and her staff are already aware of the effect that the budget cuts are having.
“Those people are not stupid over there and they know what’s going on here,” she said. “But we’re making it work.”
Really? Who exactly is it working for?
Perhaps for Miller, who earns more than $100,000 annually. But it’s not working for anyone else.
The most recent proposed budget cuts to her agency are expected to result in 50,000 fewer meals delivered to the homes of these Iowans. Hundreds of older residents will see cuts in help obtaining everything from eyeglasses to utility assistance.
Down the hall from the aging department is another state entity intended to assist seniors. The Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office investigates complaints against nursing homes and assisted-living centers.
Except Iowans who call the office to report abuse or neglect are often routed to an automated messaging system telling them no one is available to take the call. Over the past 14 months, the office has shrunk from 17 employees to 12. Three vacant positions will not be filled.
Last summer budget cuts forced the ombudsman’s office to eliminate virtually all spending on travel.
Instead of visiting nursing homes in response to complaints about care, investigations are done over the phone. This appears to directly violate state law, which requires the agency to “visit” long-term care facilities.
One would expect Ombudsman Cynthia Pederson to be screaming from the rooftops. After all, she is supposed to be advocating for about 550,000 seniors in this state.
Instead she submitted to the governor a zero-growth budget that does not restore funding for on-site visits. She has failed to register support for legislation that could provide money to her agency.
Iowans should be furious that scarce public dollars are being used to pay the salaries of these two officials. They are not advocates for seniors.
Neither is the GOP-controlled Legislature, which refuses to fund programs to help older Iowans.
Neither is a governor who continues to push an income tax bill that will further reduce state revenue and further starve the government services Iowans need.
Do these public officials not understand government has a responsibility to do what it can to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves?
A state entity is supposed to respond when there are complaints about mistreatment in a nursing home. Our older neighbors who cannot leave their homes should be able to have a meal delivered. The reason long-term care ombudsmen exist is that everyone has long recognized seniors need someone on their side.
But these are not priorities for this state’s current leaders. They bend over backward to reduce state revenue and then they say the state cannot afford to provide basic services. They starve government to the point of breaking, then justify starving it some more because it’s broken.
This shrinking of services for older Iowans comes as their ranks are mushrooming. Those 65 and older account for 16 percent of Iowa’s population, the 14th-highest share in the nation as of 2015. The percentage is expected to reach 20 percent by 2050.
In the 2010 Census, Iowa ranked third in the “oldest-old” age group, those 85 and older.
Any Iowan who is a senior or plans to become one someday should vote in November to remove these elected officials from office. They are not working on behalf of Iowans. They are not helping protect the state’s most vulnerable people. They do not listen to senior advocates who plead for help.
Iowa’s only hope for getting on track is to send them packing.