Meals on Wheels program facing financial issues
ALPENA -Sequestration is beginning to impact community services, as Republicans and Democrats remain divided over a solution to spending. On March 1, $85.4 billion in federal money was automatically cut from programs for fiscal year 2013, and some local agencies are scrambling to make up the difference.
At the Alpena Senior Citizen Center, Director Grace Marshall is in the middle of raising $10,000 to make up for what her board anticipates will be a 10.4 percent shortfall totalling the same amount.
“It’s a horrific impact to the senior population,” she said, referring to the budget sequestration. “In a metro area you might have several soup kitchens and services. What people don’t understand is that in a rural area we’re the only ones. We’re it.”
Access to funds is complicated. The senior center spends money to provide home services, meals and other assistance to residents 60 and older. Later the center is reimbursed by the county, and also receives state and federal funds. Other money comes from donations and matching grants.
Last year the center received enough money for its food program to provide 45,000 home delivered meals for area residents. It leveraged that amount through food bank credits and other funds so it was able to feed people 72,000 meals, she said.
“We kept waiting for the sequestration to go away, but it hasn’t yet,” she said.
In Alcona County, Suzan Krey, executive director of the Commission on Aging, said sequestration isn’t the only problem. Alcona has been hit with lower property values, resulting in a drop in the senior citizen millage funds it receives. And with the economy the way it is, fewer people are making donations. All totaled, Krey said so far she has lost one-sixth of her budget – around $90,000.
Among other services, the county delivers hot meals to residents four times a week, also providing them with three frozen dinners.
“At this point, we’re not even sure what the cuts are going to be,” she said.
One way to reduce costs for the program could be to deliver seven meals only three times a week for three hot meals and four frozen dinners. This step has not been authorized yet.
Part of the food program assures that people living by themselves get a welfare check at least four times a week, she said. She would not comment on what the impact would be if those visits were reduced to three times a week.
“You figure it out,” she said.
For the Presque Isle County Council on Aging, the sequester means the organization is facing roughly $10,000 in funding cuts, Director Katie Kuznicki said. This amounts to about 10 percent of the organizations budget. It could equate to about four or five senior citizens the organization isn’t able to serve. In March, PICCOA served 158 people, although the number fluctuates from month to month.
It’s just the latest in five years of decreasing state and federal funding. As a result, the organization is having to rely more and more on a half-mill, four-year millage that goes in part to the organization.
“The millage has traditionally picked up a good portion of our transportation program, with state and federal money covering in-home care” and other programs, she said. “With more cuts coming to in-home care … we have more millage money going to other programs, which leaves the money that used to be used for transportation in limbo.”
Along with its transportation and in-home care services, PICCOA also provides homemaking, respite care, home meal delivery and congregate meal services, Kuznicki said.
Right now, PICCOA’s board of directors is weighing its options for dealing with shrinking funds, Kuznicki said. One would be to reduce or revamp the organization’s busing service.
“We know there’s a need in the county, we’re aware of that,” she said. “We’re working with (county) commissioners and the state to come to the best solution for everyone involved.”
The organization is looking into more funding avenues, including state grants or funding sources from the county, Kuznicki said. This could include increasing the countywide millage, a move Kuznicki said is likely the organization’s “best bet.”
“There’s no easy pot of money sitting out there for us,” she said.
In Montmorency County, however, impact of sequestration on the Commission on Aging has been minimal, Executive Director Anna Rogers said.
Approximately 55 percent of her budget goes into the county’s food program for senior citizens. Some 2,500 to 3,500 meals are provided each month, including home delivered meals, she said.
“Shortages will be made up by our millage fund, so we won’t have to reduce any services,” she said. “If it is long lasting, we will obviously need to review our budget and our priorities.”
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.