Advocates for social services cheered when the Ohio House added $10 million for adult protective services as part of the sprawling mid-biennium review. The money is desperately needed, and represents a sharp increase over the $500,000 a year the state currently allocates.
The cheers grew louder last week when the state Senate preserved the sum in its own version of the spending bill. Now the hope is the money will survive the conference committee.
If it does, the state will begin to make up much lost ground, the emphasis belonging on begin. As Policy Matters Ohio recalls in a recent report, the state once spent as much as $3 million a year on adult protective services, investigating allegations of abuse, pursuing legal interventions, finding alternate living arrangements and otherwise providing help and support. Then, a decade ago, funding collapsed, counties now relying on scarce local money, plus federal funds, which have been hit by the sequester.
The decline in state resources could not have been more poorly timed. Reports of elder abuse have increased 60 percent since the mid-1990s. More, Ohio has an aging population, one projection putting the increase of those age 60 and older at 14 percent from 2010 to 2015.
Additional analyses show that the 15,000 reported cases of elder abuse across the state each year likely represent a fraction of the actual episodes. Policy Matters Ohio notes that there may be as many as five, or 14, or 24 cases of elder abuse for each one reported. No wonder this mistreatment, neglect and exploitation (often financial) has been called a “silent epidemic.”
The state administrative code mandates adult protection services. Yet less than half of the 88 counties commit a full-time staff member to the task. The level of investment varies widely across counties. To grasp the paltry impact of the state share, know that the $500,000 currently available translates to an average $5,700 per county.
So the $10 million does represent a big advance, warranting the applause of advocates. Yet advocates know well that more must be done. The Ohio Coalition for Adult Protective Services has recommended $20 million a year. Others also have examined the need and put the required amount closer to $30 million. These larger efforts reflect the range of steps in strengthening adult protective services, from improved outreach and awareness to targeting those at higher risk.
And it is affordable. Republicans in charge of the Statehouse already have reduced income tax rates by roughly one-third. Now they talk about additional cuts, again skewing heavily to those who are well-off. Surely, there are resources to do more for the vulnerable elderly.