Churches, Charities Could Hurt From New Bill

January 25, 2006 – Posted at 9:27 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- For many churches and organization, donations are the lifeblood of their existence. Many operations depend on contributions from generous seniors, but a new bill in congress could prohibit the elderly from giving and even cause complications when qualifying for Medicaid nursing home coverage.

Opposition to the law says it could cause economic hardships for the families of faithful givers and churches and charities could stand to suffer. Under the new rule, seniors who want to spend down assets will have to do so in five years before they go to a nursing home if they want to qualify for Medicaid eligibility.

"It puts those senior citizens and those families in great distress," said Congressman Marion Berry, D-Arkansas.

If the law passes, every gift from a senior will be totaled for the five years preceding nursing home admission...including college tuition for a grandchild, emergency help for family and holiday, birthday, wedding and graduation gifts. Seniors would be ineligible for nursing home care and have to pay their own way until a penalty period was over.

"It is that it would be a real hardship on senior adults and would hurt churches and other institutions, like other charitable organizations so they couldn't receive funds from senior adults who normally would give to those institutions," said Pastor Gary Brown of the North Main Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

The intent of the original bill was to stop wealthy seniors from transferring assets and qualifying for Medicaid. And while the package would reduce federal spending by about 50 billion dollars, lawmakers say it's not helping.

"I think we need to not put our nation at a deficit and keep digging this hole deeper, and deeper, and deeper," said Berry, "And I don't know anyone that doesn't agree with that. But the fact is there are lots of ways that we can reduce this spending and at the same time not hurt anybody."

The bill passed in the Senate in December of last year and is expected to go before the house in February.