AT&T makes donation to assist seniors -- Harrison urges focus on state’s senior citizens
MORGAN CITY, La. — A $2,500 donation to the St. Mary Council of Aging will go a long way in helping reduce the pain of state budget cuts to the agency, said the agency’s executive director, Beverly Domengeaux.
“We have had our funding cut a lot and we appreciate the support of AT&T,” Domengeaux said. The donation was made at Wednesday’s business luncheon held by the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce at the Petroleum Club.
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Gray, said he has reached out to several companies to help the agency and AT&T is the first “to step up to the plate.”
““The (Jindal) administration has cut back funding and services to our seniors. It has neglected to do the right thing for our 600,000 seniors, which are the fastest growing segment of our population,” Harrison said. “We could be the next Florida if we pay attention to their needs and open the door to seniors.”
Domengeaux said the needs of seniors should not be ignored and sometimes the needs are simple.
“They need a hand to hold, a heart to care and ears to listen,” Domengeaux said.
Harrison said it frustrates him that the state can find a way to pay $40,000 a year to take care of the needs of a prisoner, but cannot find the $2 a day per senior citizen to fund Meals on Wheels.
“We cannot keep neglecting the citizens of the law-abiding elderly citizens of this state,” Harrison.
Earlier this summer the Legislature created the Department of Elderly Affairs which was the result of a Harrison-authored bill. The new department would transfer the duties and responsibilities of Office of Elderly Affairs, operated from the governor’s office, to the Legislature, he said.
Harrison said the new department will focus on the needs of the state’s senior population and attempt to make Louisiana a friendlier place for seniors to live and retire. It is a first of its kind in the nation, he said. The department will be devoted to senior citizen issues, such as funding for councils on aging, senior centers and Meals on Wheels.
While the new department has been created by law, it is unable to become operational because the state has no room to add another department. The state constitution limits the number of departments to 21, which the state already has.
Harrison said while he is not opposed to a constitutional amendment to allow another department, he would rather see one or more other state departments streamlined and fused into a single department.
Harrison said the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Human Services are two agencies that are a prime candidate for consolidation.
“They were one department in 1988 and split by legislation in that year,” Harrison said. “We counted four or five redundant programs that they are both trying to get from the federal government … The fraud there is in the range of $800 million, which they admit to.”
There have been four straight audits with fraud and incompetence found at the departments, he said.
He cites an example of a former fiscal head of Department of Health and Hospitals who has been accused of stealing a million dollars from the agency as evidence that it needs reform.
The Baton Rouge Advocate reported today the department has “taken steps to limit employees dealing with checks it receives in the wake of one of the agency’s being arrested in the theft of more than $1 million.”
Harrison said he is also looking at other agencies that might be combined. One state agency may voluntarily go into the executive branch, he said.
Barring a combination of agencies, an expansion to 22 agencies can be brought to the voters in a statewide election next year as a constitutional amendment.
Harrison said the Councils on Aging provide information and assistance that includes at-home meals, day activities, transportation and connection to essential services.
Seniors are about 20 percent of Louisiana’s population, he said.