Young and old benefit from programs approved by Columbus council

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Programs to help young people save for college and for seniors to remain healthy and living independently were unanimously approved by Columbus City Council on Monday night.

The city will spend $23,000 to help leverage a $40,000 federal grant from the Ohio Community Development Commission Association to help needy young people, ages 14-23, build a nest egg.

To qualify for the pilot program, dubbed “Earn to Learn,” participants must be enrolled in the Columbus Recreation and Parks program “Applications for Purpose, Pride and Success” and be within 200 percent of the federal poverty level or up to $51,500 for a family of four.

Those who save up to $500 in individual development accounts at CME Federal Credit Union — which is also donating $20,000 to the fund — will qualify for an eight-fold increase to be used for post-secondary education of any kind, said Sophia Fifner, parks spokeswoman.

“Our hope is that this is successful and that we can expand the programs to more young adults….as long as it’s for educational purposes,” she said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown called the program small but important.

“If you are a young person in the city pursuing post-secondary education you should never be deterred from that because of debt or inability to pay,” Brown said.

Council also approved by a 7-0 vote funding for the other end of the age spectrum — what began as a pilot program in 1984 to help seniors live longer in their homes.

The statewide PASSPORT program, begun 35 years ago, operates locally through the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging, part of the city’s recreation and parks department.

The nearly $147 million in state and federal funds approved by council has been fed through more than 400 small agencies in eight central Ohio counties. There are currently about 7,000 recipients 60 and older and who qualify for Medicaid waivers. They receive in-home care, transportation, medical equipment and minor home repairs.

“Some people think it’s a Medicaid program and ‘I wouldn’t be eligible.’ But it’s a wider eligibility than you might think, said Cindy Farson, agency on aging executive director, who called the program the state’s largest alternative to nursing homes.

Councilman Mitchell Brown, 71, said the funding is critical to everyone.

“It’s a lot of money, but considering the number of people it affects, it’s really special,” he said. “I like to tell people, ‘Aging is so cool, everybody is doing it.'”

Brown reminded fellow council members that “We are all getting older. We have to be respectful of our senior population.”

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@DeanNarciso