Funds for elderly threatened

LIHU’E — Leaders with the Kaua’i County Offices of Community Assistance and OCA’s Agency on Elderly Affairs came under attack last week by some Kaua’i County Council committee members for not complying with federal and state requirements related to the Older Americans Act.

Noncompliance with the law that sets out to improve housing, health and income conditions for the nation’s elderly could mean OEA officials losing some, part or all of $1 million in federal and state funds, officials said during a meeting of members of the council’s Community Assistance Committee at the historic County Building.

The funds are used to serve several hundred senior citizens on Kaua’i, through planning and services.

Whether the county is in compliance, or not, provoked a healthy debate between Pat Sasaki, executive director of the state agency on elderly affairs, and Elvira Lee a chief planner with the agency, and councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura, Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, Mel Rapozo and Jay Furfaro.

Both Sasaki and Lee gave assurances Kaua’i County leaders were not in any immediate danger of losing the funds, because they have made strides toward full compliance.

Sasaki and Lee said they have kept a checklist of things that have to be done for county leaders to keep their funds, and that they have been in contact with Bernard Carvalho, who heads the OCA, and OEA Executive on Aging Kealoha Takahashi, on the progress that is being made.

But just moving toward compliance with federal and state requirements is not a good enough guarantee to prevent the loss of the federal and state funds, Rapozo said.

“We have been moving cooperatively forward for two and a half years,” Rapozo said. “And that is my concern.”

The lack of action surely opens the way for the funds to be yanked, Rapozo said.

“With the performance we have seen, with the consecutive years of noncompliance, with an issue of maintenance of effort that has gone on for almost three years, take the personalities out of it,” he said. “Bernard is a nice guy, but the reality is, if we continue on this path, are we at risk of losing funds?”

“No,” Lee said.

In correspondence to OEA, “We have outlined the points that would lead to the loss of federal funds, and we continued to monitor those, and we do see at this point that the Kaua’i Agency on Elderly Affairs, as well as OCA, is moving toward compliance,” Lee said.

OCA, which Carvalho heads, is the umbrella agency of the county’s housing, transportation, recreation and elderly agencies.

Lee said OCA and AEA officials are working in earnest to be in compliance.

“At this point, with the concurrence of my director (Sasaki) here, it is not our perception that you are in immediate danger of losing your federal funds, and we move cooperatively ahead,” Lee said.

Iseri-Carvalho said she wanted to see proof that leaders of the agencies were making headway, and wanted Sasaki and Lee to provide information on substantial violations and the time schedule for correcting them.

Lee said OCA and AEA officials have set target dates for meeting deadlines, and that representatives with her office will be making checks on the work in the future.

Carvalho said protecting the funds are his and Takahashi’s primary goal.

“We are working together, (and there is) no danger of the seniors losing their money,” Carvalho said. “And they (state aging officials) have accepted our plan to come into compliance.”

Carvalho said he is “very passionate” about protecting the funds. “I would not lose the funds for the seniors,” he said. “That would be a worst-case scenario.”

Regardless of when and if compliance is met, the only issue is keeping the funds on Kaua’i to help the island’s senior citizens, said all four council members.

Problems may have arisen because of the absorption of the AEA by the OCA in the past, Yukimura said. The OCA was created during the administration of former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka. Bryan Baptiste, when he became mayor in 2002, added OEA, the County Housing Agency, the county’s Transportation Agency and Recreation Agency to OCA, to help streamline public services.

Yukimura said that, when she was mayor of Kaua’i (between 1988 and 1994), AEA officials reported directly to her, and “it seemed, in that respect, it was much more streamlined, and could be more accountable to the Older Americans Act mission and requirements.”

Sasaki said she didn’t think the current structure of the AEA being under the umbrella of OCA is a problem, as “we have two county (elderly) agencies (in other parts of Hawai’i) that are part of the other departments.”

Ordinances in other counties give authority and recognition to AEA’s counterparts elsewhere in Hawai’i, “so we don’t see this type of conflict between the county executive on aging and department directors,” Sasaki said.

Furfaro said that if a conflict exists in the way AEA leaders work through OCA, then Sasaki and other officials with her agency need “to be open with us and help us find a solution.”

It was the expansion of the OCA that has led to conditions that have delayed compliance with the federal and state requirements, Carvalho said.

“Housing (agency) was located by the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, and then it was relocated. There were internal changes, physically and structurally,” Carvalho said. “But they (state officials) were kept abreast of what was going on.”

Furfaro said with federal dollars tight due to a huge federal deficit going into the trillions, “we need to make sure that we have a real solid plan” to ensure the federal funds continue to come to Kaua’i.

A part of the problem is that the AEA has not had a planner position for two or so years, officials said. The planner is a vital employee tasked with developing a plan for care of and services for Kaua’i seniors.

The plan that would be worked on by that individual would help AEA leaders remain in compliance with federal and state funding requirements.

“We are in the process of hiring a planner, and that is ongoing,” Carvalho said.

The position has remained vacant due to politics, some council members said.

The position was originally with AEA, but administration officials took that position and transformed it into an information specialist for the Ka Leo O Kaua’i program, Baptiste’s community-involvement initiative.

Citing a stronger need, the Kaua’i County Council took back the Ka Leo O Kaua’i position, and created the planner position.

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