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Is Coler kidding?

Does Gregory Coler, secretary of the Florida Department of Health andRehabilitative Services (HRS), really believe Floridians aren't very smart?

Surely he knows that when the people of this state hear him promise "to push harder" for the elderly in next year's budget that they will wonder how he plans to do so if he's not willing to fight for the dollars necessary to back up the promise. After all, Coler admits that concentrating on the elderly in this tight budget year will mean fighting to hold ground, not expanding services.

Does Coler think Floridians have incredibly short memories?

Surely he knows that when he says now it is time for "a special emphasis on senior programs" that no one will be comforted. Coler boasts that the focus of HRS in the past few years has been on children's programs, and that now it needs to give that same kind of priority to those at the other end of the social services spectrum. A lack of resources has contributed to shortcomings in the child protection division of Coler's department that are well-known by their tragic consequences. Children under state care have died because stressed-out caseworkers were unable to identify deadly home

environments.

Then again, maybe Coler truly is unaware of the capacity of Floridians to recognize substance over empty optimism. He traveled to a Palm Harbor senior citizens' center and adult day-care facility to announce this new budget emphasis, sharing lunch and a round of bowling with the residents. If he had known how easy it was to see through a pleasant publicity stunt, maybe he would have been more honest. Maybe he would have pledged to demand adequate resources to improve the lives of the elderly poor.

There is ample evidence that Florida is not meeting their needs. On the same day Coler was in Palm Harbor, for instance, a public hearing before a commission to study the quality of life for the elderly pointed to a basic failing in Florida's system. State supplements to pay for care at adult congregate living facilities don't cover the average cost of care at such residences. More examples are sure to fill the next hearings of the Pepper Commission, named after the late U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper, including one Feb. 27 at 1:15 p.m. at Majestic Towers in South Pasadena.

In Palm Harbor, Coler spoke positively about the role of the elderly in the next state budget. Gov. Martinez's proposal asks for an extra $1.2-million for elderly services in Pinellas and Pasco counties, including adult day care and Meals-On-Wheels, but that increase in state money only replaces federal dollars lost in 1988 in a lawsuit.

"Special emphasis" on senior programs, then, means not letting things get any worse. When Secretary Coler calls that approach to elderly services special, whom is he trying to kid?

He is kidding no one. He is insulting all Floridians, particularly the elderly poor.

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