As a double-decker tour bus pulled up to the Senior Life Center in Gainesville at dawn Wednesday, the promise of a trip to the state Capitol in Atlanta and an opportunity to address lawmakers energized two dozen senior citizens who were gathering.
Lillian Smith, of Oakwood, quickly grabbed her place on the bus, smiling and rocking in her window seat in anticipation of the day’s events.
“I just love traveling,” she said.
The bus would soon be headed for a stop in Forsyth County, where more seniors would board for the ride to Atlanta.
Don Colombero, marketing director for the nonprofit senior advocacy group Legacy Link who organized the trip, said he expected about 70 seniors from Hall, Banks, Habersham and Forsyth counties to attend the day of events at the Capitol.
Seniors would attend legislative sessions, tour the Capitol museum and meet with local representatives, including state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.
“So they’ll get a chance to experience the whole Capitol lawmaking process,” Colombero said.
The trip would also give seniors a chance to express their concerns to lawmakers about the impact budget cuts have had on senior care programs, such as Meals on Wheels, employment assistance and in-home medical assessments.
“With all the sequestration budget cuts up in Washington, we get less and less dollars,” Colombero said. “And in Georgia, we have more and more retirees.”
These concerns were echoed by Ray Davis, 92, who said the programs and resources offered by Legacy Link and the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center, among others, were critical for the health, safety and quality of life of senior citizens. Many federal dollars for senior programs are funneled through the state, which has discretion about appropriations.
Darlene Thompson, 83, recently moved to Gainesville from Southern California to be closer to her family. She said she has had difficulty getting a new driver’s license and is worried about how the benefits she is used to receiving might change.
“A lot of the benefits here are not as good as in California,” she said.
Colombero said having seniors meet with lawmakers puts a face to the problem of budget cuts, and helps ensure funding for seniors’ needs remains strong.
Miller agreed, saying it’s important to hear from constituents.
“I was glad to meet with several Hall County citizens today who are concerned about potential budget cuts to senior programs,” Miller said in an email to The Times. “I have served as a volunteer for senior groups since a young age, and my father also had a special concern for senior interests, so these issues are very important to me. There is a very fine line between fiscal responsibility and reducing funding to essential social and medical services for all Georgians, especially seniors.”