Gazette opinion: When ‘new’ funding isn’t and OTO is a budget gimmick

2013-01-04T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: When ‘new’ funding isn’t and OTO is a budget gimmick The Billings Gazette
January 04, 2013 12:00 am

The Montana state budget, like most government documents, comes with its own set of jargon. It should also come with a glossary, so lawmakers and other citizens can understand clearly what is being proposed.

Let us look at one example. On Page B-43 of the executive budget for the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Medicaid and Health Services Branch, Senior & Long-term Care, we find a proposed $3 million appropriation under “new proposals” for general fund spending.

On Page B-47, this proposal is identified as “OTO” or one-time-only funding.

Senior service budget

In fact, this money is neither one-time-only, nor is it new.

This proposed appropriation is the same amount of general fund money the past three legislatures have appropriated to help support ongoing senior services throughout Montana. This is $3 million that helps local aging senior agencies deliver Meals on Wheels and other community-based or in-home assistance to Montana seniors.

In Yellowstone County, this funding have been used by Broadview’s senior center to purchase food and by Senior Helping Hands to support home services to needy seniors, according to BeaAnn Melichar, executive director of the Adult Resource Alliance of Yellowstone County. The alliance, itself has used this state money for “one-time” improvements on senior centers in Billings, Laurel, Custer, Worden and Broadview because the board recognized that future funding was at risk.

“What we really want is those dollars in the base budget, so we can depend on them year after year to provide services,” Melichar said.

Because the past three regular legislative sessions repeatedly designated this $3 million as one-time-only money, it is not part of the base budget and it must be reviewed again as new spending.

This isn’t the only case in which lawmakers have decided to fund ongoing programs as “one-time-only.” The 2009 Legislature, for example, passed a budget that made Montana public schools dependent on one-time-only money for basic, ongoing instructional support.

What would happen if the $3 million in aging services money is deleted from the 2013-2015 budget?

The 10 Montana Area Agencies on Aging have distributed this money as grants to local senior service organizations. Without the grants, or with reduced funding, there would be less money for transportation, Meals on Wheels, Medicare and Medicaid education, ensuring residents’ rights in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, senior meal sites, personal care, health promotion, volunteer opportunities and senior centers.

Growing population

A legislative priority for the Montana Area Agencies on Aging Association is “to provide permanent funding to Area Agencies on Aging instead of the one-time-only (OTO) $3 million appropriated to them over the past six years.”

We call on Montana legislators to make that their priority, too.

Demand for senior services will keep going up. Montana’s over-65 population is growing rapidly and will make our state population one of the five oldest among the 50 states within the next dozen years. Statewide last year, more than 58,000 seniors were served through Area Agencies on Aging and the local organizations they help support.

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