In the next 20 years, more than 4 million North Carolinians will be 65 or older — the fastest growing segment of our total population. By 2025, 85 counties will have more people over the age of 60 than those under 18. North Carolina has long been known for our quality of life, excellent health care and diverse recreational opportunities — things that not only keep our seniors here but convince others to relocate. We must invest now in our future to ensure our aging citizens, and those who care for them, have the support they need.
Gov. Bev Perdue has long supported aging-related issues, and with her most recent budget proposal, she continues that support by investing in crucial programs that make a real difference in seniors’ lives. In particular, she has targeted three programs as priorities: additional funding for essential services that help keep seniors in their homes, respite care for families dealing with Alzheimer’s, and an initiative to protect more older people from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Twenty years after the creation of the Home and Community Care Block Grant, communities across North Carolina are benefiting from funding for such things as senior centers, transportation to medical appointments, nutrition assistance and home delivered meals such as Meals on Wheels. In fact, of the $56 million spent in Fiscal Year 2010-11, about 60 percent provided home-delivered meals and in-home aide — two services to help people remain at home and avoid moving into a facility.
This year, Governor Perdue has recommended an additional $2 million in state dollars for the Home and Community Care Block Grant, which could provide 1,500 additional people with meals. For 50 percent of meal recipients, home delivered meals provide more than half their daily calories.
Since its beginning in July 2001, Project CARE has become an award-winning, national best practice model for providing respite services to family members caring at home for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Project CARE is family-centered and caregiver-focused, and makes a tremendous difference in the lives of those caring for people with this terrible disease.
The 2011-12 budget passed by the General Assembly ended most of the financial support for the project. But Governor Perdue has seen the difference Project CARE makes, and this year she is pushing to restore half a million dollars for families in need.
North Carolina’s county departments of social services last year received nearly 20,000 reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of elderly citizens and younger adults with disabilities. In response, Gov. Perdue dedicated $2.3 million in her budget to support an initiative that provides protection to vulnerable adults. The pilot program funding would help the local departments of social services to implement a broader, more preventive approach to protecting these individuals — many of whom live alone and are at risk for self-neglect. It will allow local agencies to step in sooner, and for more people, at the first suggestion that someone needs help.
Governor Perdue continues to urge everyone — from state and local governments to businesses, nonprofits and community organizations, down to individual citizens — to prepare for North Carolina’s aging future. Her budget proposal emphasizes her belief that, even in difficult financial times, North Carolina must continue to invest in our seniors.