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OR Legislature Spares Senior Services – For Now

June 10. 2011

SALEM, Ore. - Advocates for Oregon seniors and people with disabilities got a "good news, bad news" message from the state Legislature this week.

The Department of Human Services budget made it through the Joint Ways and Means Committee, preserving the current funding levels for long-term care, in-home care and Medicaid providers - at least through the end of this year. Rick Bennett, AARP Oregon director of government relations, calls that a "significant achievement" but says it addresses only part of the next two years.

"There is still a significant risk in this budget. While they've managed for the most part to maintain the current funding levels in the first year of the budget, there is a need to find additional funds or savings to maintain those services in the second year of the budget."

To plug the second-year budget hole, says John Mullin, Oregon Law Center legislative advocate, lawmakers are betting on some federal funds the state is already owed. They're also counting on saving money through health-care reforms Oregon is making, which are expected to make the system more efficient.

"That's going to create a lot of different organizational changes, more collaboration, and all of those things are a part of the risk. In the governor's mind, I think he looks at it as, 'This is the transformation the system needs,' and the budget shortfall is only one component of that. These are changes that we need to make for the future."

Compared with the original budget, in which providers faced rate cuts of 16 percent to 19 percent for their services, advocates say this one looks great. Those who voted "no" in committee voiced concerns that they hadn't had enough time to study it.

The DHS budget still needs Senate and House floor votes before going on to the governor.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR