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As Long as We Remember...

May 22, 2007

Send More Cash or Trim The Fat?

Farrell Keough

In April, I wrote an article on the state's budget and slots, (Robbing Peter to Pay Paul). I recently referenced that article on a forum where the discussion of slots came up. I was rightly asked, "Well smarty-pants, we know what you don't like. What would you suggest to fill this $1.5 billion dollar shortfall?"

To be honest, I know and like the guy who asked and his reply wasn't anywhere near as prickly as I have made it out. But, of course, some things in life need some extra spice to make them fun.

Alright, buddy boy, I will try and discuss these issues through a series of articles. I have chosen to pick various agencies and discuss them. I admit to my ignorance about some of the tasks of these agencies, so I can only go by what these departments post on the Maryland State Government internet site as to their own functions and purposes.

I want to make one thing clear: I have no knowledge of any person in these agencies, so this is in no way focused upon individuals. Rather, this is a general perception on my part and how I view some departments as too large.

If Gov. Martin O'Malley decides to use any of my insights, I imagine we can work out some sort of "finder's fee" or consulting payment.

Let's start with the A's; The Maryland Department of Aging. As my wife is wont to tell me, I am not far from needing some of the services offered by this department. Tongue-in-cheek though that is, all of us who live long enough will require, in one way or another, the services of government with issues of aging. To that end, I see real merit in some of its functions.

The Continuing Care Division "regulates continuing-care retirement communities." This is basically oversight, regulation, and certification of facilities which care for seniors. Generally, this is one of those tremendously boring functions of government.

But, if one of these facilities is found to be deficient, harming their patients, misusing people's money, or any other bad practice, we must have government regulation so this type of activity can be stopped and those responsible prosecuted. This is one of those nasty but necessary functions of government: to regulate those in society who abuse others.

Before I comment further, I need to point out what I see as an immensely important aspect of the Department of Aging: "To meet the needs of senior citizens, the Department administers programs throughout the State, primarily through local 'area agencies' on aging. Area agencies are designated by each county and Baltimore City to administer State and federal funds for local senior citizen programs. These programs include advocacy services, health education, housing, information and referral, in-home services, and nutrition."

So, we send our hard earned tax dollars into the state coffers only to have someone, (paid by those tax dollars) determine how much of that money should be sent back?

"Grants of federal and State funds for local programs to serve the elderly are provided by the federal Older Americans Act (Title III), the federal Food and Agriculture Act (sec. 700), and State general funds. Area agencies also receive local funds, private donations, and contributions from program participants."

Government is very good at paying people to shift moneys around, but this is tremendously inefficient. Agencies that run these types of services should already know the regulations they are bound to follow as well as what government funds are available for their use. To have another layer of government allocating these funds strikes me as wasteful.

Yes, there are - and always will be - areas that have a lower tax base from which to draw for such services, but by having multiple layers of government to allocate from the "general funds" only diminishes the available moneys. Our aging population may be increasing, but so should their available retirement income with so much more focus upon investing.

For instance, the local agencies on aging have a Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, Nutrition Program, Senior Center Program, and a Senior Information & Assistance Program.

All of these programs employ many people, yet "[l]ocal agencies on aging are affiliated with but not subordinate to the Department of Aging. They receive federal and State funds through the Department but also receive support from local government and private sources."

So, why the additional layer?

I volunteered for a mission in North Carolina for three years and I can assure you that they knew all the necessary regulations as well as the possible agencies for funding. This type of business requires that the people giving service are well aware of the funding sources as the bills can be increasingly difficult to pay. I have already noted the necessity for oversight of these services, but why do we need an additional layer of government to administer funds?

Another division that seems to have become over-inflated is the Client & Community Services Division which "oversees six programs: Health Promotion, Senior Advocacy; Senior Care; Senior Information and Assistance; Senior Nutrition, and Senior-Center Capital Improvement."

This division was re-organized in 1994 and 1995. The Senior Advocacy Programs "protect vulnerable or at-risk older persons living at home or in institutions."

This is good and necessary. But wait, didn't we already go over some of that in the Continuing Care Division?

Given, the Senior Advocacy Programs "include Curb Abuse in Medicare and Medicaid, Legal Assistance, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Public Guardianship, Elder Abuse Prevention, and Senior Health-Insurance Assistance." But, why not include this in the Continuing Care Division?

Of course, we will need a new name which will probably revert back to the old name, but that seems to be the way of government.

The other programs, Health Promotion Programs, Senior Care Programs, Senior Nutrition Programs, and the Senior-Center Capital Improvement Program all rely on local government or local volunteer agencies to fulfill their mandates. And the Senior-Center Capital Improvement Program is another means to give back state and federal monies, thereby paying someone with our tax dollars to give back our tax dollars.

Finally, the Housing Services Division and Program Development Divisions are yet another funding mechanism. I am getting a bit long-in-the-tooth, so I will not go into the specifics.

Basically, there may be a need for "some" state intermediary to the federal programs, but the redundancies I see in these various programs is tremendous.

I invite you to look these up for yourself and let me know just where and how I may have misinterpreted the functions of these divisions. But, I do feel sure of one thing: government currently has and will always have redundancies which cost us money.

If we truly want to overcome such huge deficits, we need to either give away more of our hard earned money, or trim the inevitable fat in the system.

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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