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United Way King Co. Taken to Task for Trimming Senior Funding

Shuttle services, meals at senior centers and other places for older people to socialize will go without United Way funding in King County starting next year. (Bryan Ilyankoff)
Shuttle services, meals at senior centers and other places for older people to socialize will go without United Way funding in King County starting next year. (Bryan Ilyankoff)
December 8, 2015

SEATTLE - It may be the season of giving, but United Way of King County has told about 30 groups it's taking away money in the new year, from programs that serve older people and those with disabilities - and they aren't happy about it.

United Way informed the groups it is shifting almost $1.8 million to other priorities, including homelessness and programs for children and families.

Cathy MacCaul, director of advocacy for AARP Washington, said United Way officials told her their strategic plan has changed to reflect what donors want to support. MacCaul agreed there's no lack of worthy causes, but called the move shortsighted.

"This is just not the time to do that," she said. "There is a huge 'age wave' that has just begun - more than 10,000 people turn 65 every day, for the next 15 years. So, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of seniors who need these types of services."

MacCaul said there's concern that other United Way chapters could follow King County's lead and leave more senior programs scrambling. She pointed out that King County voters just approved a "Best Start" property tax levy, an influx of new money to be used for child and family programs and early learning.

Paula Houston, CEO of Senior Services, said that for her organization, the cuts will mean about $800,000 less funding next year for transportation, Meals on Wheels, community dining and more. And this population just isn't as resilient as young families, she added.

"People don't see issues of aging, and what happens to people as they age when they don't have services, as an immediate crisis," said Houston. "It's certainly going to be a crisis, because if we don't have these services, people are going to fall further into poverty, which makes them not be able to stay in their homes."

She said her group expects to curtail services in some cases and start waiting lists. The United Way's change is planned for June 2016.

United Way of King County netted $112 million in its most recent fundraising campaign.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA