Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne speaks to seniors at the Center in the Park. Sen. Art Haywood, left, and Lynn Fields Harris listen. — Tribune Photo by Samaria Bailey

The Pa. Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne and State Sen. Art Haywood (D-4) spoke to a group of seniors about the state budget and its effect on senior programs at the Center in the Park on March 10.

Osborne and Haywood shared information on the status of the 2015-2016 budget, which has not been passed, a general overview of the 2016-2017 and encouraged the seniors to stay civically involved.

“We are committed to Gov. Wolf’s vision,” Osborne said. “The proposed 2016 — 2017 budget ensures the department continues to uphold its responsibilities [according] to the Older Americans Act by offering access to health and wellness programs, [providing] positive civic engagement ... investment in caregiver services and pharmaceutical benefits.”

Responding to a question about the 2015-2016 budget impasse affecting programs that are offered at the Center in the Park, Haywood stated that it is “very unlikely” that the “current budget stays as it is. When [passage] will happen is much more challenging. I think it will happen before June 30.”

Another concern brought up at the meeting is the fact that funding for senior centers has stayed the same for 13 years.

“With a growing need, we can’t continue to provide services in the community if we are [provided] with the same amount of money,” said Lynn Fields Harris, Executive Director of Center in the Park.

Haywood encouraged the seniors to stay involved with the political process.

“In order to move it to the position it needs to be, the state is going to have to be turned around,” he said. “The more we are being involved — that’s the only way I can see the focus being shifted to us.”

Osborne said that senior centers are funded by the local aging agency with monies from a “state aging block grant” and that if more funds are needed for senior centers, then the local and state agencies will have to work together.

“If there is an opportunity for us to advocate to expand funding to the local area agency on aging that they can help at the local level then I’m on board for that,” she said, adding that a goal of her office is to foster “public-private partnerships,” in general.

“There are other areas of the county we need to foster those relationships, such as with local housing opportunities, PHA (the Philadelphia Housing Authority), the local United Way, AARP — the opportunities are limitless and I don’t think we take full advantage of those consistently, so that’s a goal of ours — to further enhance public private partnerships,” Osborne said.

In her address to the seniors, Osborne stated another major part of her position is to “ensure that the lottery dollars used to plug holes” in other departments' budgets is “decreased.

She said “78 percent” of the Aging department’s budget comes from lottery funds and that a portion of lottery funds are also used for transportation and “filling gap in the Department of Human Services,” in addition to other uses.

“This administration and Gov. Wolf’s desire is to ensure lottery dollars are entrusted to the care of and services for older Pennsylvanians and realizes the significance of the Department of Aging and the local area agencies on aging in order to accomplish that,” Osborne said. “So when we do better at leveraging our state funds against federal dollars and our sister agency — the Department of Human Services, we can have additional lottery funds for our intended purposes and that is already taking place.”

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