By Betsy Connelly
Help is on the way for more senior citizens in Kalamazoo County as a result of the millage passed two years ago, with programs that either have been started or will be offered in the near future.
The programs are getting underway through a needs assessment of South County seniors. They have been surveyed for the first time in 10 years thanks to funding from the August 2018 millage.
Several new programs have been contracted out and are now available to assist in meeting the needs of older adults, caregivers, and nonprofit organizations in the South County community. With the millage estimated to raise $2.8 million each year for six years, older adult programs will gain an approximate total of $17 million in funding from the tax. Half of the budget will be used to expand current programs that need more services. The other half of the budget will be contracted out to new programs that meet the criteria. These include access services, community services and in-home services as set by the Area Agency on Aging.
According to Samantha Carlson, director of Older Adult Services for the agency, determining what programs to fund was carried out in three phases, each lasting three months. The first phase determined what kind of funds were needed for the programs already in place. The second phase was “filling the gaps” with contracted newer programs that met the criteria. These new programs include transportation, home repair, home delivered meals and legal assistance. In August 2019 the agency issued a request for proposal for phase 2, allowing these eligible programs to bid for millage funding. The complete list of programs selected by the first two phases are listed in the Kalamazoo County Senior Millage Program 2019-2020 brochure available on the Area Agency on Aging’s website: http://www.kalcounty.com/hcs/aaa.
The final phase used the remaining funds from year one to carry out a long overdue needs assessment done through planning and public outreach for keeping up to date on the needs of individuals in the community. Needs were assessed through public forums held throughout Kalamazoo County, as well as a survey created and distributed to older adults, their caregivers, and nonprofits focused on the needs of older adults in the community. Those forum and survey results will impact how the Area Agency on Aging will allocate funds in the future.
One such forum, held in Vicksburg in February, assessed the needs of south county seniors in particular. While the data has not yet been processed due to overriding public health concerns, Danna Downing, former director of South County Community Services (SCCS), was present at the needs assessment forum held in their building. According to her, the two most prevalent issues discussed at the forum for seniors were the availability of transportation and the availability of a caregivers’ network.
The funds allocated to these programs, determined by the needs assessment, can come from the local government, the state government and the millage. Once the needs assessment is complete, the entirety of the millage funds will be contracted to be spent on senior programs. The process has taken over a year to complete because the agency wants to be diligent in following the county procedures to serve the public.
The community, with help from nonprofit organizations in the area, was responsible for passing the millage that has already “helped exponentially to serve older adults that were not served before,” according to Carlson. It will be up to the citizens to decide whether or not to get a senior millage on the ballot again at the end of six years. It takes about two years to get a millage on a ballot, so the agency will start the conversation whether to push for a continuation in about four years.