March 26, 2009

Lawmakers Considering Budget Cuts for Senior Nutrition Centers

One year after receiving good news from lawmakers regarding funding opportunities for the states numerous senior citizen nutrition centers, proponents of the services are now looking at empty plates.

Backers of the nutrition sites hope these same empty plates will encourage lawmakers to change their minds on the proposed budget cuts of $2.1 million to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services funding of senior nutrition programs.

Local nutrition sites, including the Scotland County Nutrition Center have encouraged patrons and supporters to sign their names to an empty plate as part of a campaign to inform legislators of the unpopularity of the proposed budget cuts.

According to Scotland County center director Barbara Smith the budget cuts are expected to result in the loss of nearly $120,000 in revenue for the senior centers in the 16 counties served by the Northeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, including Scotland County. The cuts would reduce the $800,000 in federal and state aid for the centers by almost 15 percent.

That is the equivalent of 18,346 meals that are being cut, Smith said.

The Scotland County Nutrition Center serves approximately 1,100 lunches a month and delivers roughly 600 meals in that same time frame as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

The home delivered meals are the area targeted by the recent state budget cuts.

Smith noted the impact of those changes, pointing out that the Meals on Wheels program actually saves taxpayers money in the long run by allowing elderly people to stay in their homes longer, living healthier and more productive lives, reducing the costs of healthcare and residential care.

Last year, lawmakers made adjustments to the DHSS funding formula that allocated money to senior centers based on need and usage as opposed to the former demographic guidelines.

Those changes helped offset the nearly $5,000 decline in state and federal funding experienced by the center in 2007. At that time the local nutrition site was receiving between $1.75 and $2 per meal in governmental reimbursement.

Now the funding issue returns to the forefront courtesy of the state budget changes. Legislators are pointing to federal stimulus money that is being made available to offset the state funding shortfalls.

On March 19th Vice President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will award nearly $2 million in Recovery Act funding to provide meals to low-income seniors in Missouri. The funding is expected to provide nearly 14 million meals nationwide.

Across the country, older Americans depend on senior centers and home delivery programs for regular, healthy meals. Today, more senior citizens are in need, but the programs they depend on are on the brink of reducing their services or closing down, said Vice President Biden. The Recovery Act will help ensure older Americans are not forced to choose between paying bills and buying food.

Concerns remain that the state cuts are being made from the core budget for the services, while the stimulus funding is only a one-year fix.

We all know what its like getting money back into the core budget once it has been cut, Smith said. We are worried that in two years we are still going to be fighting to get that $2.1 million back into the budget.

Nationwide, the Recovery Act provides $65 million for congregate nutrition services provided at senior centers and other community sites, $32 million for home delivered nutrition services delivered to frail elders at home.The funding will be awarded to 56 states and territories.

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