Federal sequester cuts will take an 8 percent bite out of regional seniors' programs funded through the Older Americans Act, instead of the 4 percent reduction that the Area 4 Agency on Aging was expecting, according to the agency's new executive director, Pam Miller.
And the fear is that without a resolution to the sequester's automatic budget-cutting process, a new and substantial round of reductions will set in after October, when next year's federal budget takes effect.
"I think there will still be cuts," said Miller. "My concern is that after this three months, what will the next nine months look like?
"We'll go through the whole cycle again, and then what?"
Her agency oversees federally funded programs for people 60 and older - including senior nutrition, in-home assistance, transportation, caregiver respite and legal services - in a seven-county area that includes Sacramento.
U.S. Census statistics show that the elderly population of the Area 4 Agency on Aging service area is booming, in particular the segment of the population that's 85 and older and most in need of assistance.
Through October, the agency must cut $420,000 from its programs, said Miller, but $200,000 of that figure includes reductions already made during May and June shortly after the sequester took effect.
What's more, because Sacramento County has agreed to a one-time infusion of $100,000 from its general fund, Sacramento programs administered through the Area 4 Agency on Aging won't feel an immediate impact.
"That's very good news," said Miller, "but Sacramento County made it clear that it's a one-time payment."
For the most part, senior nutrition programs - of particular importance to the homebound elderly - will remain in good shape for now.
In Sacramento, said Miller, that's because of the county's budget contribution to Area 4 Agency on Aging programs, but in other areas, that's because the state has made special nutrition program funds available.
"For our home-delivered meals," Miller said, "all have been left whole for now. We made some cuts to aggregate meals," which are delivered at meal sites such as senior centers.
To decide which programs could withstand budget cuts, she said, the agency ranked them into four tiers, with the first tier being life-and-death programs that couldn't be touched and the fourth tier being programs considered more expendable.
In Sacramento County, for example, two small programs eliminated in the budget reduction process were a counseling program for Korean Americans as well as a fall prevention program using tai chi.
"When you think of tai chi vs. aggregate meals, the choice is clear," said Miller. "But it's still a horrible process for us."
Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her in Twitter @AnitaCreamer.