January 24, 2008

House Committee Report Could Spell Relief For Senior Center

News from the recently completed House Interim Committee on Senior Nutrition is being warmly received in northeast Missouri.

After months of listening to Missouri seniors and assessing their health and nutritional needs, the committee, chaired by Rep. Joe Smith, R-St. Charles, released its legislative recommendations this week.

“This is one of the Speaker’s top priorities and I am confident we will be able to pass significant legislation this year that will result in a number of improvements to our current Senior Nutrition Program,” said Rep. Smith. “We were able to travel to all areas of the state and talk to so many members of our senior population to assess the services they are receiving and how they can be improved. The recommendations we are making offer straightforward solutions to many of the problems we saw and will ultimately mean an enhanced level of service for our seniors.”

The recommendations included supporting the efforts of the DHSS to reform the current funding formula to make more effective allowances for need as opposed to geographic location or size of population.

“This is something we have been pushing for, for years,” said Barbara Smith, director of the Scotland County Senior Nutrition Center. “We serve more meals than a lot of centers that are located in more populated areas, but the funding formula sends the money to the areas with bigger populations and isn’t based on need.”

Barbara Smith pointed out that over the past two or three years the funding deficit caused by this formula has hit home in Scotland County.

She indicated that last year funding dropped by some $4,000 to $5,000 with the center getting reimbursed somewhere between $1.75 and $2 per meal.

The senior center serves approximately 900 lunch guests a month with an additional 450 meals delivered to local residents.

Another highlight of the committee report is the recommendation to appropriate extra funding for the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) budget for Senior and Disability Services for the purpose of matching local fundraising efforts performed by the senior centers.

“Right now our local fundraisers are what are filling in the holes in the government funding,” Barbara Smith said. “I think knowing that the your donations would be matched by this increase in funding definitely would be an incentive for folks to support their local center’s events or to simply put an extra dollar or two in the collection box when they come in for a meal.”

Other committee recommendations included:

Consolidating the state’s 10 Area Agencies on Aging into one agency to increase efficiency and reduce administrative costs;

Giving the Missouri DHSS increased oversight over the Area Agencies on Aging;

Repealing a statute that hinders efforts to provide additional funding to the agencies outside the funding formula;

Expanding the food pantry tax credit passed by the Missouri General Assembly in 2007 to include senior centers;

Appropriating more money to DHSS for the purpose of matching funds raised through the Senior Citizens Services Tax Fund.

“We’ve made a commitment to ensure our seniors receive nutritious meals so they can live healthy lives and, while we have done a great deal to help, there is still more we can do,” said Rep. Smith. “With the changes we’ve suggested we can make significant improvements to our system that will result in an enhanced quality of life for all seniors who are in need of meal program assistance.”

The House Interim Committee on Senior Nutrition collected information during the Fall of 2007 during a series of seven public hearings held in Springfield, Lexington, O’Fallon, Hannibal, Marble Hill, Sikeston and Jefferson City. The committee heard testimony from members of the Area Agencies on Aging, senior center administrators, senior citizens, and employees from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

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