May, 2011; Source: AARP Bulletin | With 44 states and the District of Columbia projecting a total of $122 billion in budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2012, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is urging its members to weigh in on the value of public programs serving all age groups. AARP does so in, “Going Broke,” a special report in the association’s monthly bulletin, lamenting that, “on the chopping block are programs that Americans rely upon from cradle to grave.”

Citing a range of policy organizations and polls, the AARP reports that during the recession, 46 states have reduced services. Within this group, 29 states have cut funding for older and disabled people, 34 states have cut public education, 31 states have cut public health, and 44 states have cut the state workforce.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “fiscal year 2012 is shaping up as one of the most difficult budget years on record,” even as the country begins to emerge from deep recession. This is because the temporary infusion of federal stimulus payments dampened the impact of state budget shortfalls as income and sales tax revenue plummeted while demand for state services increased. As federal stimulus payments to states wind down, however, state budget shortfalls are likely to worsen before they improve. As Chris Whatley from the Council of State Governments says, “Everything is on the table – and it has to be.”

In response, JoAnn Lamphere, AARP’s director of state government relations for health and long-term care, states that “AARP members should pay attention to the very serious budget decisions taking place in their states and be careful to avoid a knee-jerk judgment of what’s good and bad. They would be wise to think of the value of public programs in their lives.”

When one of the country’s largest membership organizations and powerful lobbying groups urges thoughtful activism beyond its traditional senior citizen-focused policy agenda, it’s worth taking notice.—Kathi Jaworski