- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Joyce Clark, 82, takes pride in cooking her own meals and living independently. Clark cites volunteer work and voracious reading for keeping her sharp.

It also helps that a homecare worker spends about five hours a week cleaning Clark’s Topeka apartment, doing her laundry, and helping her with grocery shopping.

But funding meant to keep seniors like Clark out of nursing homes by offering them in-home services soon will be cut. It’s one of the steps the state is taking to eliminate a $151 million shortfall in the state’s $16 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Opponents say the move will drive the elderly into nursing homes and onto Medicaid, which will cost the state more money in the long run.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Lusk, of Overland Park, called the cuts “foolish” and “harmful to seniors.” She blames a 2012 tax policy that exempted over 330,000 business owners and farmers from income taxes.

“The state is not fulfilling its responsibilities for core services,” Lusk said.

But Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said it’s unlikely that more seniors will resort to nursing homes as a result of the cuts, because most of the clients receive only two to four hours of service per week. Instead, she said that family and community members would likely take up the slack and help those seniors.

The in-home services that cost Clark about $35 a month are offered through the state-funded Senior Care Act, created in 1989. Seniors pay for the services on a sliding scale based on their income.

The department decided to reduce funding for the in-home services by $2.1 million, or 30 percent, in response to the over $17 million reduction in its overall budget.

The state’s 11 Area Agencies on Aging, which administer the program, haven’t yet decided which clients’ services will be reduced or eliminated.

Janis DeBoer, executive director for the group that represents the agencies, said it will send letters to at least 1,300 clients in June saying their services will be affected.

“The choices … are becoming too few for seniors in Kansas and we do feel like that this decision by the state is creating a roadmap for seniors that leads only to nursing homes,” DeBoer said.

Moreover, DeBoer said, nursing homes are more expensive for the elderly and the state. The state’s monthly cost for the in-home service is $200 per person, while the average cost for a person in a nursing home is about $2,750, according to the state’s monthly Medicaid reports.

In Topeka, Clark said she worries that because her family members work full-time, they won’t be able to help her as much as her homecare worker does.

“I’m independent and I want to stay independent,” Clark said.

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