NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The New Mexico department that helps our senior citizens is asking the state for a massive budget hike. The Aging and Long Term Services Department says it’s dealing with a growing senior population and dwindling resources.

The department helps more than 200,000 seniors and disabled New Mexicans a year. Katrina Hotrum-Lopez is the secretary for the department. She explained, “We think we’re only hitting maybe 20% of the severely chronic population that could use our service so we’ve got a long way to go.”

On Monday, New Mexico’s Aging and Long Term Services Department told the Legislative Finance Committee that a lot more money is needed to serve the state’s growing population of seniors and people in need of long-term care. Hotrum-Lopez said, “We know that a lot of family members are currently taking care or natural supports are taking care of seniors and our goal and mission is to keep seniors in their community of choice as much as possible.”

COVID-19 and low pay have chased away a lot of the workforce that typically takes care of senior citizens. Long waiting lists across the state for help are now forcing families to take on the responsibility themselves. “We’ve had a lot of calls from caregivers saying we don’t think we can do this much longer. We have to go back to work.”

Leaders with the department say they need more money to help bring services to seniors and their families – because there isn’t enough room in assisted living facilities for the population. “I feel like [it’s] the shortage of beds we’re going to see soon if we don’t try to stabilize certain populations and we’ll have overflow in long-term care facilities,” they say.

The Aging and Long Term Services Department wants a big chunk of the $79 million budget to expand upon Medicare and Medicaid services and provide caregivers financial assistance. It’s an idea state representatives on the committee seemed to support.

Senator Nancy Rodriguez shared, “If you ask a family member who else would they want, if not a family member, to take care of them and so we’re going to pay somebody else to do it and not a family member; doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever so I am in full support of that.”

Additionally, Representative Harry Garcia said, “We need to do more but to do more, we need to have more funding and that’s my concern that you know, I think you’re really underfunded for our senior citizens because there are a lot of seniors out there madam chair – that are [sic] not even getting services.”

The department also wants to expand its adult protective services, which investigates cases of neglect and abuse in the elderly and disabled populations. According to the LFC, the department is also sitting on millions of dollars for capital outlay projects – many of which have been delayed due to supply chain issues.