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Carroll County officials say state-provided assisted living subsidy fails to cover cost for senior citizens

A state subsidy program that serves to help low-income senior citizens pay for assisted living has aided Carroll County residents for years, but the Bureau of Aging & Disabilities has found the $650 monthly maximum doesn’t come close to covering the cost.

In approving the application for the Senior Assisted Living Group Home Subsidy Program grant, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners learned at its meeting Thursday how citizens are impacted by the program. The county has applied for and received the subsidy for many years. The total grant will be $148,709, according to an agenda-related document.

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“The Senior Assisted Living Group Home Subsidy Program provides subsidies to low-income older adults to assist with the cost of services provided in assisted living facilities. Each year, approximately 10 to 15 low-income adults 62 and older have been served through this program. Subsidies are provided for services such as shelter, meals, housekeeping, personal care services and 24-hour supervision,” the document states.

One of the challenges with the program is the subsidy only covers a small portion of assisted living costs, said Debby Standiford, of the county grants office.

“Even though it’s a nice subsidy, the cost of assisted livings are so high that sometimes individuals can’t take advantage of it because it’s still not enough to cover their costs," Standiford said.

Aging & Disabilities Services Supervisor Gina Valentine described the $650 cap as “antiquated” — the figure has not increased since she started with the bureau nearly 13 years ago. Every applicant does not receive $650 either. Valentine said how much of the subsidy a person receives depends on a number of factors, including monthly income.

“It’s the only program that we have that is not Medicaid-funded that helps people to pay for an assisted living facility," Valentine said.

Assisted living facilities typically cost between $2,500 and $6,000 per month, Valentine said after the meeting.

The subsidy cap is written into legislation, Valentine said during the meeting, so it’s up to the state to change it. Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, suggested the county bring the issue to Annapolis.

“As you know, we’re going to meet with the delegation in late August and this would be a great agenda item,” Rothstein said.

While $650 may have made a bigger impact 13 years ago, Rothstein said, it doesn’t seem like enough now. Valentine said the $650 limit deters some people from applying.

“We have people that would qualify, you know, medically, for the program. They demonstrate they need assisted living care,” Valentine said, but even with the subsidy, they cannot afford it.

There are currently 11 people on the program now, though the bureau could support more, Valentine said. After the grant renewal, the bureau will be able to support about 17 people — if they apply.

Outside the commissioners’ meeting, Valentine said the program was “always full” in the past and even had a wait list up until three years ago.

“Our older population is definitely growing rapidly,” she said. “Our goal is to keep people in the community as long as possible."

When a senior citizen can no longer stay in their home, moving into an assisted living facility may allow them to remain in their community while receiving the care they need, Valentine said.

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Of the 167,134 people living in Carroll County as of the 2010 Census, 16.8 percent were 65 or older, according to census.gov.

The grant is expected to be $5,442 more than last year and does not require a county match, according to Valentine. The majority of the grant, $133,838, goes to client subsidies, while the remainder funds the program coordinator position, according to the agenda-related document.

One of the conditions of the subsidy is that it must be used at assisted living facilities with four to 16 beds, Valentine said outside the meeting. There are 22 such facilities in the county, Valentine wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.

Applying for the Senior Assisted Living Group Home Subsidy is free. Senior citizens can call Aging & Disabilities at 410-386-3800 and ask for Kristen Harvey to apply, Valentine said.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the application for and future acceptance of the grant. Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, was absent for personal reasons.

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