The effects of sequestration are taking a toll on many and Meals-on-Wheels is no exception. A Meals-on-Wheels program in central Maine has been faced with the reality that it must now start turning away applicants and reducing the number of home visits. Although Meals-on-Wheels Greater San Diego Inc. is not directly federally funded, sequestration impacts our organization as well. Due to the decrease of funding to other locations, more beneficiaries will be turned away and will need to come to us for help.
Even though we are mostly funded by foundations and private donations, we receive some Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that provide resources to address a wide range of unique community needs. Meals-on-Wheels has already heard from one city that we will not be receiving funding and we will just have to wait and see if others can fund meals for seniors this year or not. We are facing a possibility of $70,000 worth of cuts. This combined with the increase of need due to the effects of sequestration, and the growing number of Baby Boomers, puts Meals-on-Wheels Greater San Diego Inc. in need of additional funding to replace that piece of the pie and help with the burgeoning need to help more seniors we are seeing now every day.
Read more about the cutbacks to the central Maine program, below.
A central Maine program is turning away applicants and cutting back to one visit per home per week.
By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING / Morning Sentinel
Across-the-board sequestration cuts to federal programs mean the Meals on Wheels program is unable to deliver meals to some area seniors, leaving them struggling to feed themselves.
Meals on Wheels is one of several programs funded under the Older Americans Act, which was included in the sequester cuts, according to Debra Silva, a vice president at Spectrum Generations, central Maine’s agency on aging.
Cuts to the Older Americans Act have a disproportionate effect in Maine, which in 2010 had the third-highest percentage of seniors in the nation, at 15.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Silva said Spectrum lost $106,000, or 5 percent, of its budget because of sequestration. Because the cuts were retroactive to the beginning of the year, she said, the actual effect is 9 percent of the program’s services.
In response, Spectrum has reduced its offerings, which include community dining at Waterville’s Muskie Center and support services for family caregivers. It also provides educational outreach on health insurance, heating costs and fraud. Wellness classes, which teach seniors things such as how to manage chronic diseases, also are being cut back.
The loss of services has been apparent in the Meals on Wheels program. For the past 40 years, the program has delivered meals to seniors in need twice a week. Each volunteer visit includes a hot meal and one or two frozen meals, so that a senior winds up with five meals per week. The Muskie Center delivers about 200 meals a day to seniors.
In her 16 years at the Muskie Center, Silva said, the Meals on Wheels program never has had to turn people away because it couldn’t afford to feed them.
All that changed March 1, when the program began putting seniors on a waiting list for services.
The change came at a bad time for Marie Rouleau, 84, a Waterville resident who recently suffered a neck injury that makes it difficult for her to feed herself.
“I live alone,” said Rouleau, who has never married. “I don’t have any family.”
Despite her injury, for which she wears a soft brace, she can get up and get around without any problem, but the slightest movement hurts.
Her doctors tell her that the neck will never heal, she said.
Care workers do come to her house regularly, and take her to the grocery store once a week, but mostly she sits and watches TV, although even that is painful, she said.
As for feeding herself, she no longer can lift a heavy roast or a chicken out of the low oven, or wash and cut vegetables. Lately, she said, “I’ve been living on sandwiches and TV dinners. I eat a lot of soup.”
Rouleau had been a Meals on Wheels recipient previously, and now the time to accept help had come again, Rouleau decided in early March.
However, when she called, she said, she learned that the program had stopped accepting new clients just a few days earlier. She became one of the first people in the area to be put on a waiting list that has grown to 25 people in just a few weeks.
Silva said Rouleau is an example of a new group of seniors throughout the area who are finding themselves bereft of both the nutrition and the human contact that twice-weekly Meals on Wheels visits provide.
However, “We have to stop adding more meals, because we don’t have enough money,” Silva said.
Even those seniors who continue to receive the service will feel the pinch, she said, because beginning Monday, the service is scaling back from two visits per week to just one, in which the volunteer will deliver one hot meal and four frozen ones.
Silva said the change will save money because the program reimburses volunteers for their mileage costs. Still, she said, for many homebound seniors, the volunteer visit amounts to a safety check that is as important as the food being delivered.
“It’s hard for us to have to give up one of those visits,” she said. “We understand we have no choice, so we’re trying to do the best we can,” Silva said.
The ironic thing, Silva said, is that cutting these services actually costs taxpayers more money in the long term, because a tax dollar spent providing support services to someone at home can prevent having to spend many tax dollars on providing full-time care to the same person in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility.