In many communities around the state, senior centers are places where seniors receive services that will help them stay active and engaged in their communities. The socialization opportunities, wellness programs, congregate and home-delivered meals, transportation and other activities help our greatest generation stay mentally and physically active, which helps support independent living.
In many ways, senior centers are the heart of the community for older Arkansans.
Senior center activities include exercise and fitness programs; computer classes; arts and crafts; recreational, educational, and social activities; health screenings and services; special programs and speakers; and volunteer opportunities. Centers offer dances and dance classes, both extremely popular activities.
There are over 180 senior centers in the state serving an estimated 36,385 senior Arkansans. They serve seniors in every county in the state, and in communities large and small, urban and rural. Many senior centers are run by local governments, like a city or county, in cooperation with the state of Arkansas and regional Area Agencies on Aging. There are many nonprofit senior center providers as well. All receive monies from funding provided through an appropriation to the state senior citizen centers; a state source of funding that is critical to the continued operation of our senior center network.
While our state's senior population has continued to grow, state funding for senior citizen centers in Arkansas has been flat since 2005. In recent years this has led to decreased hours, fewer activities and, in some cases, closures of senior centers. Thankfully, Arkansas legislators are seeking to fix this shortfall by increasing funding for senior centers from $5 million to $8 million per year. This long-overdue rise will go directly to the local centers to help meet the increasing needs of our growing, active elderly population.
It will benefit every senior center in the state and deserves the support of every Arkansan.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and members of the Legislature are currently considering tax cuts that will fulfill their campaign promises made over the past several elections. Seniors and their advocates are hopeful that they will also fulfill the promises they made to provide more support for our senior citizens. While tax relief is an important goal, we hope it does not come at the expense of our state's senior centers.
Surely there is a way for the governor and the Legislature to accomplish both of these important goals.
Without increased funding, many rural senior centers will have to drastically cut back on their operating hours, available programs and number of meals served. Sadly, many smaller centers have already been closed or consolidated with other, more distant centers.
Many seniors are unable to travel longer distances to neighboring communities and have most likely given up on participating in their vital activities. The trend of a growing senior population and stagnant funding can no longer be sustained or justified.
It is our hope that the governor and our state representatives and senators can agree on this important priority and take action now.
Dr. Daryl and Tobey Johnson are active senior center participants in Blytheville.
Editorial on 02/16/2019
Print Headline: Increase funding