Oppose cuts to Senior Corps programs

By Paulette Jacobson and John McAlpine

There are several little-known programs around the Puget Sound area and across the country that provide benefit to millions of people. They are the Foster Grandparent Program, Senior Companion Program and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), collectively known as Senior Corps. Each of these efforts involves volunteers over 55 years of age that provide vital support in our communities.

The Senior Companion Program pairs senior volunteers with frail or disabled individuals who are homebound. By taking care of routine chores and providing transportation to medical appointments or the grocery store, Senior Companions are often the only reason that frail or disabled senior citizens are able to remain in their homes and avoid living in a costly long-term care facility. More than 700,000 frail and disabled Americans are able to continue living on their own because of Senior Companion volunteers, saving the federal government millions of dollars.

The Foster Grandparent Program pairs senior volunteers with at-risk and special needs children in schools, youth shelters and correctional facilities. The presence of a Foster Grandparent has marked improvement on the reading skills, school attendance and behavior of the 140,000 children that they mentor.

Through RSVP, seniors across the country are connected to volunteer opportunities with over 65,000 local organizations. Not only does RSVP ensure that senior volunteers’ skills are best matched to a local organization, it also guarantees that volunteers time is put to use satisfying whatever unique needs their communities may have. Additionally, senior volunteers reap the mental and physical benefits of remaining active.

In the current 2015 budget proposal from the president, each of these programs will be cut (RSVP suffering the worst, with the elimination of 66 percent of its federal funding). These cuts fly in the face of common sense. These programs save money by keeping other elderly out of long-term care facilities or helping children catch up with their peers academically. Last year in Snohomish County, 917 RSVP volunteers donated over 168,000 hours in-service to 91 nonprofit agencies, including but not limited to; food banks, police departments, hospitals, schools, libraries and many others.

As more and more Americans reach 55 years of age, we need avenues where they can use their skills and experience to help solve problems in their communities. These Senior Corps programs are part of that solution. I urge those in Congress to oppose this aspect of the administration’s 2015 proposed budget. I urge everyone else to write to their senators (Murray and Cantwell) or representative in Washington (Larsen) and ask that they oppose these changes and cuts in funding to Senior Corps (sister programs to AmeriCorps and part of the Corporation for National and Community Service).

Paulette Jacobson is Director of Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Snohomish County, and John McAlpine is a recruiter for the program. For more information visit www.rsvp-wa.org/snohomish.htm