By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
HERNDON — More than 75 senior citizens listened to a speech by Brian Duke, Pennsylvania’s secretary of aging, on Tuesday about the future of senior action centers, but they didn’t find out what they wanted to know.
“I learned about a bunch of numbers,” said Marlin Knopick, 71, of Dalmatia. “But we want to know what we get right here.”
Duke, who was appointed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011, visited the Herndon Senior Action Center to discuss the 2013-14 budget and what it means to seniors.
“I am honored to be here today,” Duke said. “I hope I can answer some questions you may have.”
He didn’t get many from those in attendance.
“We just want to know what we are going to get,” said a woman who declined to identify herself. “We don’t want to hear all these numbers.”
The number seniors needed to know was $2 million.
That’s how much state money will be distributed to county senior action centers.
During a 30-minute speech, Duke outlined the department’s plan for the $50 million that Corbett included for seniors in the state budget. Duke’s audience included Northumberland County Commissioners Rick Shoch, Vinny Clausi and Steve Bridy, as well as state Rep. Lynda Culver, R-108, of Sunbury.
Duke said at least $20 million will be used for in-home personal care services and home-delivered meals to older Pennsylvanians and for investigating reports of elder abuse, which has been on the increase.
At least $2 million will be used for improvements to senior centers to deal with a younger aging population and $5 million will be invested in the state’s 55 Area Agencies on Aging.
Duke said Pennsylvania is the fourth oldest state in the U.S. In Northumberland County, 23,000 of the 90,000-plus residents are older than 60.
Duke’s appearance came shortly after a fight in Harrisburg to turn the management of the state’s lottery system over to a private British company. Pennsylvania lottery proceeds benefit programs for senior citizens.
Corbett was banking on an additional $50 million in the next year for senior programs from the deal with Camelot Global Services. Attorney General Kathleen Kane rejected the contract, and Corbett’s administration has until March 16 to appeal to Commonwealth Court. Camelot has extended its offer until March 18.
The $2 million for the centers will be distributed by a competitive grant process, Duke said.
“We want to know what we are getting,” said Marge White, 90, of Dalmatia. “We want to make sure we keep these centers open.”
White is one of the 350 members of the center, which has been in existence for 27 years.
In December, the county commissioners voted to close three centers: Riverside, Elysburg and Dewart.
A month later, the commissioners reconsidered and decided to re-open Elysburg on a part-time basis while evaluating the other two centers.
This sparked a panic among other centers and seniors began calling for the commissioners to meet with them to discuss what was happening.
The answer lies with the state and Act 22, said Patricia A. Rumberger, the county’s Area Agency on Aging administrator.
Act 22, in effect since the 2011-12 fiscal year, granted Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander the ability to institute changes in programming without formal legislative approval. The intent of the act was to reduce fraud and abuse in the welfare system, but even Republicans who supported it have acknowledged its “unintended consequences” in human services funding.