Eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program

The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) funds part-time jobs for low-income people age 55 or older who have poor prospects for other employment. Participation in the program in 2010 was limited to people whose annual income was below 125 percent of the federal poverty level (for someone living alone, $13,500). SCSEP grants are competitively awarded to nonprofit organizations and state agencies that hire SCSEP participants to work in part-time community service jobs. In 2010, $825 million was appropriated for the program. That appropriation included $225 million to fund a one-time expansion for the 2009- 2010 and 2010-2011 program years ($66 million and $159 million, respectively).

Participants in the program are paid the federal or state minimum wage or the prevailing local wage for similar employment, whichever is higher. They are offered annual physical examinations as well as training, counseling, and assistance with moving into unsubsidized jobs when they complete their projects. The Department of Labor estimates that SCSEP had about 99,000 participants in 2009 working in schools, hospitals, and senior citizens' centers and on beautification and conservation projects.

This option would eliminate the SCSEP, reducing federal outlays by about $4 billion through 2016 and by about $8 billion over the 2012-2021 period.

An argument in support of this option is that the cost of subsidizing program participants' wages and the other benefits they receive for their services could be borne by the organizations that gain from their work; under current law, those organizations usually bear just 10 percent of such costs. Shifting the full cost of the services to the organizations would increase the likelihood that only the most highly valued services would be provided.

An argument against this option is that eliminating SCSEP, which is a major federal jobs program for low- income older workers, could cause serious hardship for some people. Although, in general, older workers are less likely than younger workers to be unemployed, if they are without a job it can take longer for them to find work, particularly during periods of high unemployment.