Inyo County leaders will now be the governing body for senior services in the Eastern Sierra.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the formation of the Eastern Sierra Area Agency on Aging, effectively disbanding the Inyo-Mono Area Agency on Aging.
Under the new agency, the Board of Supervisors will serve as the governing board, and members from the former IMAAA Advisory Council will continue to guide the future of senior services as the ESAAA Advisory Council.
To form the ESAAA, county leaders were required to approve a contract between Inyo County and the California Department of Aging for regional senior services.
The contract provides $750,878 in state funding for July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.
As part of the agreement, the state requires the county to dedicate a certain percentage of its state funds to specific senior services, such as transportation, home health care and legal services.
Following the board’s decision to approve the contract and appoint the advisory council, the advisory council met in Independence to discuss those required percentages and come back to the board later in the day with recommendations for the funding levels.
Based on a needs assessment the county conducted with seniors this spring, and a review of actual utilization of IMAAA services over the past few years, county Health and Human Services staff and the Advisory Council were able to return to the board with recommendations for the mandated minimum funding. (Though these numbers reflect the minimum amount of state funding that will be earmarked for the programs, more funding can be programmed in later, and the county can always add funds to the pool.)
The board approved a total of $82,000 for the state-mandated “access” category of senior services, which includes $12,000 for transportation, $52,000 for assisted transportation, which was the number one concern seniors expressed in the needs assessment, and $16,414 for information and assistance.
The board approved a minimum allocation of $19,632 for the legal assistance program, which did not rank well in the needs assessment.
The Advisory Council recommended a higher allocation for the program, despite minimal utilization in the past and the low ranking in the needs assessment.
Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner said that the legal assistance program, though not the most used of the county’s senior services, is a vital resource for those who need it, and is required by the state.
Turner said her $19,000 recommendation was based on the needs assessment, but she was sympathetic to the Advisory Council’s recommendation and left the final decision to the board.
Advisory Council Chairperson Roger Rasche said the recommendation for higher funding comes from uncertain economic times and a fear that more and more seniors will be depending on such programs.
“Legal services save our seniors,” Rasche said. “We don’t know what needs will come up in the future.”
Ultimately the board decided to stick with the staff-recommended minimum of $19,632.
“My inkling is to go with the recommendation you have, because your recommendation is based on the data you have” about utilization, Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Marty Fortney said. “I don’t have a problem putting more money into it later.”
Another program that ranked high in the needs assessment was the senior meal program, which received a minimum allocation of $509,000.
That number reflects a $23,000 reduction in funding for food and nutrition from the state. Turner said county leaders will have to decide how to handle that reduction, and suggested that the county provide meals twice a week to prevent a reduction in services for seniors.
She added that if Mono County wishes to avoid a reduction, it will be responsible for making up the difference in funding.
With the minimum funding approved by the board, the ESAAA Advisory Council and Governing Board (the Board of Supervisors) will be working over the next few weeks to develop a four-year plan and working budget for administration of senior programs.
The Board of Supervisors will consider any recommendations county staff comes up with in the coming weeks.
“Our intent is to continue offering the same services,” First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said. “And if we can do it locally, we can direct these services in a more cost-effective way.”