New York, July 5 : Elderly folk across the United States are experiencing a shortage of gas supply due to soaring gasoline prices.
So grave is the crisis that agencies around the country that provide services to the elderly, say they are having to cut back on programs like Meals on Wheels, transportation assistance and home care, especially in rural areas that depend on volunteers who provide their own gas.
In a recent survey by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, more than half said they had already cut back on programs because of gas costs, and 90 percent said they expected to make cuts in the 2009 fiscal year.
The New York Times quoted Robert McFalls, the chief executive of the Area Agency on Aging in Palm Beach, Florida, as saying that he had never seen a crisis of this nature in the past, and added that at his office, he had a waiting list of 1,500 people.
Public agencies of all kinds are struggling with the new math of higher gas prices, lower property and sales tax revenues and increases in the minimum wage, the NYT said.
Some communities have cut school bus routes, police patrols, travelling libraries and lawn maintenance.
Older poor people and those who are homebound are doubly squeezed by rising gas and food prices, because they rely not just on social service agencies, but also on volunteers.
In the survey of agencies, more than 70 percent said it was more difficult to recruit and keep volunteers.
The paper quoted Val J. Halamandaris, the president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, as saying that rising fuel prices had become a significant burden for the 7,000 agencies represented by his group, with some forced to close and others compelled to shrink their service areas or reduce face-to-face visits with patients.
A recent survey by the group concluded that home health and hospice workers drove 4.8 billion miles in 2006 to serve 12 million clients. "If we lose these agencies in rural areas, we'll never get them back," Halamandaris said.
The agencies, which have suffered from Medicare cuts in recent years, are now lobbying Congress to account for fuel inflation in reimbursement rates and to reinstate special increases for providers in rural areas, a program that expired in 2006.
Agencies say they are facing a shortage of home aides, because the jobs have low pay and often require long drives for a few hours of work. Many agencies said their revenues - which come from state, federal and private sources - were not keeping up with their increased expenses.