LIHU‘E — Since July 2020, the county’s Agency on Elderly Affairs has addressed over 7,435 calls from kupuna, caregivers and families seeking help with food, housing, medical treatment and vaccinations.
AEA is seeing a 6.9% proposed cut next fiscal year, for a $1.37 million budget, which primarily is due to dollar-funding the Aging Program Planner, according to AEA’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget and Operations Synopsis, which Kaua‘i County Councilmembers and citizens have expressed concern to lose.
The proposal is to split the duties of the Planner with existing staff and with AEA Executive Kealoha Takahashi, she said.
The job requires to include research, having focus groups to gather input from the community, and establishing needs and implementing programs to address these within the county and with community partners.
“Right now, staff has their hands full, so what it will entail is that it (duties) will fall upon my shoulders having been a Planner in past years,” Takahashi said during an April 8 meeting.
The Four-Year Area Plan on Aging primarily falls on the Planner’s shoulders and serves as a “blueprint” for AEA services, and is required for state and federal funding. The beginning of the next cycle begins October 2023.
Naomi Sugihara held the position from 2005 to 2011, and urged the county to reconsider, citing the importance of the Four-Year Plan.
“As AEA moves forward through this pandemic, having plans in place and coordinating programs to meet the needs of our ever-growing aging population and their families is critical,” Sugihara said in written testimony. “Planning for the aging of the baby booms, those born in 1946 through 1964, will continue to be addressed in the next plan.”
About 20% of Kaua‘i’s growing population is over 65 years of age, according to census data.
Councilmembers seemed dedicated to ensuring services would continue and expressed a desire to find funding.
Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i suggested that potential cash from the American Rescue Plan Act coming to the county could potentially be used to fund the position.
“I’m fairly confident after discussions with the Administration that we’ll be able to prioritize a small portion of the funds we’ll be receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act either for covering revenue shortfalls or even the specific funding for Older Americans to cover this vital Planner position that impacts our future federal funding levels for our Agency on Elderly Affairs and our kupuna (senior) programs. We all agree that our kupuna is our priority,” Kuali‘i said in a follow-up statement.
Community support for the position came through to the council, as well.
“The distribution of these duties and responsibilities to remaining staff would put strain and hardship on them as I have witnessed how hard the AEA staff has been working to provide additional support to kupuna especially during the COVID pandemic,” Bill Arakaki, a Retired Senior Volunteer Program Advisory Council Member, wrote.
Azi Turturici worked for almost two decades as an accountant with AEA, and has seen first-hand the importance of the Planner.
“The responsibilities for these duties need to lie with a full-time employee as they are many and essential,” Turturici wrote. “The expertise of the Planner is not found in any other position at Elderly Affairs.”
AEA took a leading role in ensuring kupuna received the necessary information, access to services and assistance throughout the pandemic to one of the county’s largest populations.
“Elderly Affairs has proven in the pandemic to fulfill many additional duties county-wide, but there’s a limit to what a small office with just a few employees can do for the welfare of the population served,” Turturici said. “Please help them accomplish their mission by fully funding the Planner position.”