S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell says South Carolina seniors are getting short shrift from the General Assembly at a time when their numbers are predicted to more than double in 20 years.
The state has no plan to accommodate that growth, and the budget for aging services has been cut 48 percent in the past three years, according to the Lt. Governor's Office on Aging.
Meanwhile, more than 8,000 home-bound seniors remain on a waiting list to have someone deliver meals, take them to doctor visits, help with home repairs or install wheelchair ramps.
And federal trustees say retirement and disability programs through Social Security and Medicare could run out of money by 2033, placing additional pressure on states.
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"We need to get our hands around this growing population and not bust the budget," McConnell told nearly 30 gathered Tuesday at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort. "The face of aging is a reality and a coming calamity if we don't do something now."
The Charleston Republican and former S.C. Senate President has crisscrossed the state conducting forums as part of a tour to gather public input and legislative support to improve home- and community-based services for seniors.
The number of South Carolinians age 60 and older is expected to balloon from more than 912,000 to about 1.8 million by 2032, McConnell said.
In Beaufort County, seniors account for nearly 28 percent of the population with one in 10 living below the poverty level, according to census data.
"We have a booming population increase, a 48-percent cut and the only alternative for people we serve who can't stay home is a skilled-nursing bed through Medicaid," McConnell said. "That is $52,000 per person a year to the taxpayer versus our program of $1,200 per person per year through the Office on Aging."
The solution, he said, involves $5 million in state money to get seniors off the waiting list, a move away from institutionalized nursing to home-based care and better coordination among service providers, caregivers, residents and community leaders.
"We need to do what it takes to help seniors stay in their homes, remain independent, self-sufficient and healthy," he said. "It's cost-effective. It's the humane thing to do. It makes fiscal sense and it starts to give us a framework for a plan for how to deal with a growing population."
The state Senate this year approved McConnell's request for $5 million to remove the 8,000 from the waiting list, but that amount was later whittled to $2 million.
McConnell said the money helps but still doesn't reduce the waiting list, so he will ask again next year for the full $5 million.
"Seniors are not looking for handouts but a helping hand to stay independent," he said. "I'm going to paint that face and that story (for legislators) because we can't leave our seniors behind."
Out of a list of 10 state legislators invited to attend, only one did: S.C. Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort.
"We need to allow our citizens to age in place with dignity," Erickson said. "It's not only the best thing to do for those people, it's the best thing for us when we look at the budget ... and I will stand with the Lt. Governor any way I can to help make sure that happens."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.