CARSON CITY -- A joint Senate-Assembly budget panel decided Tuesday to add back nearly 400 slots for elderly Nevadans who qualify for government-funded home care and community programs, rejecting recommendations from Gov. Jim Gibbons to reduce the openings.
Seven vacant social worker positions that the Republican governor wanted to eliminate also were preserved by the budget panel.
The cost of the add-backs would require about $5.4 million in state general funds over the next two fiscal years.
With the changes, the home care and community programs would serve about 2,000 seniors. The figure is close to the level that existed before program cuts that began last year.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, the budget subcommittee chairwoman, said the lawmakers' decisions will help to keep many at-risk, low-income seniors out of nursing homes and save the state money that otherwise might be spent in covering the nursing home costs.
"We can't turn our backs on the elderly," Leslie said. "Even in tough times we have to make sure that we're providing for them along with the added benefit of decreased costs for the state and counties."
Aging Services Administrator Carol Sala said after the hearing, "This puts the care in the home where most people would rather be cared for, rather than going into an institution."
Also, Sala called the panel's decision to approve Gibbons' recommendation to add state and federal dollars to offset the loss of federal funding for the state ombudsman program for seniors "generous."
Elder rights advocates make up most of the program's staff.
"They made a real statement that seniors are important, Sala said."
The panel also decided to reduce the salary of senior personal care aides by $1.50 per hour instead of nearly $3 an hour as proposed by Gibbons.
The current hourly rate is about $18.50.
Sala said the reduction might affect employers of such aides but added, "I'm glad that at least some of that rate was restored."