Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 | 1:55 a.m.
CARSON CITY – More than 16,000 senior citizens could lose a state grant used to help them pay their rent, food and utilities. Other programs that help seniors could also be cut as the state deals with a massive budget shortfall.
The state Health and Human Resources Department has recommended the elimination of the senior citizen property rebate program. This year, there were 16,200 seniors who received an average grant of $335 as a property tax rebate.
But Gov. Jim Gibbons has ordered agencies to cut 10 percent from their budgets in the face of an estimated $3 billion shortfall.
“It’s an absolute tragedy,” said Peggy Lear Bowen of the Senior Silver Haired Congress. “The state’s financial troubles are placing the burden on those who can’t afford it.”
Grady Tarbutton, director of Washoe County Senior Services, said half of the senior citizens in his county make less than $20,000 and rely on it to pay rent, utilities and food.
This is a “big ticket” item for those seniors who benefit from the rebate, Tarbutton said.
Bowen, of Reno, said the only reason senior citizens got the rebate was “they were in financial trouble.” She said this would be putting the elderly “in harm’s way.”
The proposal is only a recommendation, and next governor will have to decide whether to follow the suggestion. It will be up to the Legislature to make a final decision.
Eliminating the rebate would save $5.6 million in each of the coming two fiscal years.
Luci Peres, a member of the Nevada Silver Haired Legislative Forum from Las Vegas, said there will be lots of proposed changes in the coming Legislature. "We have to watch so they don’t take away all the programs," she said.
Tarbutton said another major loss in the proposed budget would be eliminating a personal aid program for senior citizens. He said there are an estimated 6,500 seniors statewide who receive this service, keeping them out of nursing homes.
It provides for personal care aides to come to the home of the elderly and disabled to clean, cook meals and help them bathe.
Another elderly aid program possibly on the chopping block is adult day health, which would affect about 400 people. Often the seniors are dropped off at a care center by their children, where they spend the day being fed and receiving nursing care. The children pick them up in the evening.
This program also keeps seniors out of nursing homes, he said.
There are going to be “big challenges” facing both the seniors and the Legislature in the coming months, Tarbutton said.