Taking tobacco money now would hurt seniors, director says | NevadaAppeal.com

Taking tobacco money now would hurt seniors, director says

Janice Ayres, head of the Retired Senior Volunteers Program, said this week the lieutenant governor’s plan to securitize the tobacco settlement money and use the proceeds to cover the state budget shortfall would seriously damage senior services programs.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki has proposed selling rights to the estimated $1.2 billion the state will get over the next 17 years for $600-$700 million in cash now. That cash, he said, would go a long way toward making up the more than $800 million Nevada will have to cut over the next two years unless the economy improves.

Ayres said she gets about $4.5 million a year from tobacco settlement funds and uses it to leverage a total of $10-$12 million in federal and other money. She said that money supports 63 different programs including Respite Care, Care in the Home and the Lifeline Program, all of which help seniors remain at home instead of being institutionalized. And it supports a wide variety of geriatric, emergency services, legal services and other needs of seniors in the state.

“On Lifeline, we’ve kept 800 people home for seven years,” she said. “If they had been institutionalized, it would have cost the state $170 million.”

She said the money also helps support transportation programs for seniors to help them maintain independence.

Krolicki said he shares her concerns but that, “in the triage of Nevada’s fiscal situation, we have to look athow we’regoing to survive this biennium.”

He said the cuts are especially hard on agencies such as Health and Human Services, where almost every cut costs the state an equal amount of federal matching funds, doubling the impact on programs.

Krolicki said the governor and Legislature can direct some of that money to the programs now funded by the tobacco money to protect them.

“I don’t want to give up what I have for something that’s not tangible,” Ayres said. “I don’t see anything in writing that somebody’s going to take care of us. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and I think we have a bird in hand.”

Ayres said the state must find answers to its budget shortfall, “but I don’t want them to do it on the backs of seniors.”

“I have every respect for Brian Krolicki but I can’t support this. It hasn’t been thought through.”

The money RSVP receives comes through the Fund for a Healthy Nevada, which receives 50 percent of the tobacco money. In addition to funding programs for seniors, the fund makes grants for children’s health programs, disability services and other such programs operated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposal, if adopted, would also take the 40 percent of tobacco settment money which now goes to the Millennium Scholarship program. That would leave the scholarship program, which helps support tuition and fees for students who graduate a Nevada high school with a B average or better, with only a small share of the unclaimed property money collected by the state. There are some 14,000 students attending Nevada universities and colleges in part on the Millennium Scholarship program.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.