Sequester Cuts Halting Meal Service to Hundreds of Seniors

The ability of hundreds of seniors across the country to maintain their independence is in jeopardy as sequester-related budget cuts begin taking effect, impacting local senior services such as a San Francisco-area Meals on Wheals program that’s struggling to maintain service levels, reports the local CBS News

Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa, in Contra Costa County, Calif., says it may have to drop service to 200 seniors. 

Funding is running low for the not-for-profit group, which relies on 800 volunteers to deliver one meal each day to about 1,200 homebound seniors. Not only have donations been reduced, but need has also increased in the wake of the Great Recession, says the CBS article.

On top of that is the “crucial blow” of the federal budget sequestration, which cuts $100,000 from the county Meals on Wheels program’s funding.

“The sequestration was a bridge way too far,” program director Paul Kraintz told CBS News. “We’re always struggling with increased need for services and not enough revenue, but when the federal government hit us for $100,000, it made it so we had to act differently.” 

About 60% of the Contra Costa county program’s approximately $3.5 million annual budget comes from donations from individuals and foundations along with contributions from seniors, according to the article, who pay on a sliding scale ranging from $0 to $5 for the meals. The remaining 40% comes from state, local, and federal governments, and because of the sequester, that funding is being significantly cut. 

Absent the Meals on Wheels service, many seniors may be forced to move into an institutional or community care setting. 

“If people can no longer live independently and safely and healthfully at home, they often end up in much more expensive care,” says Amy Gotwals, senior director of public policy and advocacy for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a).

For many, that care will be paid for by Medicaid, which did not receive any sequester-related cuts. Rather than achieving any actual savings, either short or long-term, says Gotwals, cutting funding from programs such as Meals on Wheels essentially results in driving up costs on other parts of the budget.  

Meals on Wheels programs in other locations are also seeing decreases in funding as a direct result of sequestration, and many programs expect diminished ability to maintain service levels to seniors. Only a handful of states already know their funding levels for fiscal year 2013, says Gotwals, with most still uncertain how the sequester cuts will impact senior-related services. 

While some states are relying on “carry-over” money from last year’s budget that may temporarily patch a gap in federal funding, those dollars aren’t expected to go very far in upcoming years.

“We strongly believe that if people do lose these servicessuch as a reduction from several meals a week to just a handful—I can’t tell you how quickly that individual may start to lose their independence,” she says.

“Over time, if their health suffers, they may not be able to stay in their homes, which may lead them to a nursing home—which for the average person means they’ll spend down their assets quickly and transition to Medicaid, and will end up costing much more money [to the federal government]. Our concern is that this is what will happen.” 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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