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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Advocate for KY Elderly Suggests 1% Sales Tax Increase to Fund Senior Services

An advocate for elderly people in nursing homes is calling on Kentucky lawmakers to create an “Elder Tax” to better fund services for the elderly.  Bernie Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said a 1 percent increase in the state’s 6 percent sales tax could generate as much as $500 million a year that could go to such services.  Vonderheide acknowledged that getting lawmakers to approve a tax increase is unlikely. But he said articles in the state’s two largest newspapers last year make it clear the state is poorly prepared to address the needs of its rapidly aging population.

“There’s a crisis building here, and something bold needs to be done,” he said. “Politicians may run in the other direction but someone needs to take action.”  Vonderheide cited a December Courier-Journal series that reported state funding for elder services has been slashed in recent years, even as reports of adult abuse and neglect are rising and an increasing number of elderly citizens are believed to be at risk.
He also cited a Lexington Herald-Leader series earlier last year that reported on problems of abuse and neglect at nursing homes and the failure of officials to coordinate investigations and prosecute in some cases.  The common thread in the stories, Vonderheide said, “is there is no money in state coffers to solve the problems.”

Vonderheide outlined his idea for the sales tax increase in a Dec. 27 letter to Gov. Steve Beshear, asking him to lead the effort to win its approval.  But Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the governor cannot support the idea.  “While Gov. Beshear understands the request for greater services for the elderly, he is strongly against raising any broad-based taxes on Kentucky families while we are in the midst of the worst economic recession of our lifetimes,” she said. “However, even in these tough times the governor will continue to look for ways to address some of these issues.”

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he commends Vonderheide for raising the issue. But he said the state should consider an update of its entire tax system to increase revenue for senior citizens' programs and other human services.  “I'm always concerned about wanting to raise the sales tax,” he said. “It adds to the burden of the poor and the working people.”

Other officials have said it’s unlikely that anything requiring additional funding will get approval in the legislative session that began Tuesday.  Vonderheide said he’s not discouraged about the lack of enthusiasm for his proposal, even if nothing gets done this year.  “This could be part of the 2012 agenda,” he said. “But we’d better start taking about it right now.” 
 
Vonderheide said he’s especially concerned about cuts to the state’s Department of Aging and Independent Living, which helps fund services such as Meals on Wheels, housekeeping and personal care. Those programs allow the elderly to remain in their homes at much lower cost than in a nursing home.  That department has been cut by about $6 million since 2008, causing waiting lists to grow to more than 25,000 people. Meanwhile, projections are that nearly a quarter of the state’s residents will be 60 or older by 2030, meaning an increasing number of people will be in need, Vonderheide said.  “Why not get ahead of this challenging problem and act to solve it before it gets out of hand?” he asked in his letter to Beshear.
 
Courtesy Courier-Journal (1/4/2011 online article).

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