About 200 seniors and caregivers rallied at the state Capitol yesterday to urge lawmakers to continue high levels of funding for a state fund that supports programs that feed and care for needy seniors.
House Bill 160 would provide $8.3 million in each of the next two years to Kupuna Care, the state’s fund for senior care providers.
For years Kupuna Care received $4.8 million per year, but lawmakers approved an additional $3.5 million from the state’s rainy day fund last year to cover an increased demand for services.
Yesterday’s rally, in the Capitol atrium, was to urge lawmakers to maintain that level of funding.
Louisa Love, 83, of Waianae, a volunteer with Lanakila Meals on Wheels, was among those at the rally. She said Kupuna Care serves a critical need in the senior community by funding programs such as Lanakila Meals on Wheels, which home-delivers hot meals to nearly 4,000 seniors a year.
"Without Lanakila a lot of people would go without," Love said. "They’re neglected. They need the food to help the seniors because they depend on it, they can’t go out. The food has to be brought to them."
Barbara Kim Stanton, director of AARP Hawaii, said, "Kupuna Care has been underfunded for years. Gov. Abercrombie essentially submitted the Lingle administration’s budget, but Gov. Lingle never increased the amount of funding for Kupuna Care when she was in office."
In addition to Meals on Wheels, Kupuna Care funds programs providing transportation to seniors (Catholic Charities Hawaii), housekeeping and case management (Child and Family Services, Kokua Kalihi Valley) and personal care such as bathing and dressing (St. Francis Health Services for Senior Citizens, Project Dana, Waikiki Health Center).
Bruce Botorff, associate state director of communications for AARP Hawaii, said that while the state is not the only source of funding for Kupuna Care, it serves as the "backbone" of the state’s social services safety net for seniors.
Supporters of the bill said they would not be in favor of a general excise tax increase to fund senior care programs.
"This is the time to look at what kind of tax credits have we given everybody, what special funds are there," Stanton said. "Any time you raise the GET, you hurt those who are most in need."