Hungry senior citizens in Montrose, Delta and San Miguel counties may soon have to tighten their belts even more. Delta County Commissioners learned Monday at their regular meeting that funding for the Meals on Wheels program, which includes meals at senior centers around the area, has been severely impacted by the sequester – a huge hit for a program that was already foundering. KVNF’s Marty Durlin has more.
One of the ways to keep older people out of nursing homes and hospitals is through the Meals on Wheels program, born out of the Older Americans Act of 1965. A reauthorization of the act, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, is currently in the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (or HELP.)
The act’s authorization expired in September 2011, and its programs have been hobbling along with piecemeal appropriations ever since. The sequester delivered a further blow to the programs that offer assistance to senior citizens.
Nationwide, about 15% of senior citizens struggle with hunger. In Delta County some 65% of seniors who receive meals on wheels are on the poverty line or lower. Deana Sheriff, director of Volunteers of America’s (VOA) Senior Community Meals program, says many recipients are elderly, frail and poor.
“The vast majority of the people that attend our senior centers are over age 75,” says Sheriff. “The vast majority of the people we serve at home are over age 78 and are truly homebound. There’s no way they can get out and get a meal.”
In the last fiscal year, the nonprofit VOA subsidized the local Meals on Wheels program to the tune of about $400,000. The total budget was $1.1 million, which paid for some 120,000 meals delivered to homes or served at senior centers. Food costs have risen about 18% per year for the past three years, adding to the budget crisis. Craig Ammermann, VOA’s regional director, says the organization is considering its options.
“We’re looking at some of the options of potentially having a centralized kitchen serving multiple locations, as well as reducing the number of meals we serve a year,” Ammermann says. “That’s a real tough one.”
Meals on Wheels costs about $565,000 in Delta County – the County itself contributes only $10,000 a year to the program. The Commissioners asked about eligibility requirements and about what participants pay.
“Essentially you can go to the community center at any time, at any age, if you wanted to pay full price,” says Sheriff. “Right now our guest fee is $6.75. Okay, but if you were over age 60, you would qualify for the reduced rate, and we just ask for a donation.”
“If we go to a waiting list, we’ll be doing some further qualifications regarding income in order to prioritize who needs it the most,” she says. “Whether through their health needs themselves, or income levels, or age levels – it’s kind of a big formula that we have to put together. We will make sure that the most needy get fed.”
Sponsors of the Older Americans Act reauthorization hope to move the bill before august, including a 12% increase in funding over 2010 levels. But VOA representatives said that cuts in service to Western Slope seniors will likely come in the next 60 to 90 days. And that means that the 200 folks in Delta who enjoy hot meals, the 175 people in Cedaredge, the 75 in Hotchkiss, and the 65 in Paonia – well, some of them might be eating peanut butter and crackers.