State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Senior services groups support lottery privatization, but say it's not enough

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 22, 2013 4:07 PM

Advocates for senior programs said Tuesday they’re on board with a plan to privatize the Pennsylvania Lottery, if the private firm taking over could deliver more money for senior programs.

But the panel testifying before state House lawmakers also said more money alone isn’t going to solve structural problems within the state’s system providing services for the elderly.

Vicki Hoak, head of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association, said one of those problems is that lottery funds have not been exclusively funding senior programs, but have also funded the state Department of Aging (or state employee salaries, as Hoak put it) and, since 2006, the state’s obligation for Medicaid.

“As we move into another chapter, we must also commit to ensuring that the lottery funds work in sync to optimize all the services and supports we provide to older Pennsylvanians,” said Hoak.

The chairman of the state House Aging and Older Services Committee said he shares Hoak’s sentiments. Rep. Tim Hennessy (R-Chester) plans to introduce a bill requiring lottery proceeds to be used exclusively on services for older Pennsylvanians.

Crystal Lowe, director of the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging, illustrated the need for services at senior centers across the state. Last year the entire network of centers served 80,000 people, but another 5,300 people are on a waiting list for services.

“Many more consumers this past year have had their services cut, so they don’t even show up on waiting lists,” said Lowe. “So the need has been building.” She adds that budget pressure has forced the layoffs of more than 300 workers at senior centers across the state over the past year.

Others testifying before the state House committee in the first of two hearings this week emphasized that more money from the lottery would be a Band-Aid compared to the overhaul necessary to make the state’s senior services more accessible and efficient.

Ron Barth, CEO of LeadingAge PA, said if privatizing the Pennsylvania Lottery will guarantee additional funding for senior programs, that’s a plus, but the most in-demand programs will still need more.

“It is appropriate to be thinking in terms of using those funds for all senior services,” he said. “But the Lottery Fund in and of itself is not going to solve the problem. We’re going to need more General Fund revenues as well.”

One Democratic representative noted she saw Wednesday’s hearing as the real “crux” of the discussion about the Pennsylvania Lottery’s privatization, when executives from British firm Camelot Global Services along with members of the Corbett administration are scheduled to testify before the state House committee.

Camelot has won a bid on the lottery’s operations and is guaranteeing higher annual profits over the next 20 years, provided it’s able to expand gambling.

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