By JoAnn Nenow, President
Meals On Wheels Association of Pennsylvania
Meals on Wheels programs across Pennsylvania provide the nutrition that seniors need to remain healthy. These programs are funded through a number of sources, including private donations, federal dollars from the Administration on Aging and block grants, and PA State lottery money. Meals on Wheels programs that receive federal government funding may have to cut services for many seniors if automatic spending cuts go in to effect on March 1.
According to estimates by the Meals On Wheels Association of America, the automatic spending cuts could mean a loss of over 1 million meals which could affect over 10,000 seniors in PA. These are seniors who are living independently in their homes with the help of home-delivered meals, Senior Center lunches and other nutrition services. If they did not receive meals, many would not be able to continue living in their homes and could end up in a nursing home environment at a much greater expense to the state of PA and the American taxpayer. Allowing our seniors to live in their homes with support services in place, is a cost-effective use of government dollars. In fact, we can feed one senior Meals on Wheels for one year for roughly the same cost of caring for them in a hospital for one day.
In Pennsylvania, home-delivered meals are funded by the Older Americans Act (OAA) and the PA lottery. In Fiscal Year 2012, Pennsylvania received over 38 million dollars in federal OAA nutrition funds. If sequestration occurs in March, the OAA nutrition funding dollar cut for Pennsylvania could be $1.9 million. This puts seniors in Pennsylvania at great risk of losing the meals they rely on. The Meals On Wheels Association of America estimates that the impact of sequestration could mean as many as 19 million fewer congregate and home-delivered meals served nationwide. And some Meals on Wheels programs across the nation might shut down, especially those that are fully or heavily dependent upon this government funding.
For many of the MOW programs in Pennsylvania, it will take some time to see the reality of these cuts as they trickle down. Will our contracts with the state to provide home-delivered meals automatically be cut 5.1%? Or will the state transfer funds from other areas within the state budget if such money can be found? Will private funding stretch enough to make up for the loss of government funding? Or will Meals on Wheels providers have to institute waiting lists or close because there is not enough money meet the need? We don’t really know.
What we do know is that senior programs have been underfunded for a long time while the senior population has increased. In Pennsylvania (the state with the third highest senior population in the nation), most Meals on Wheels programs have been flat funded by the government for the past 8 years even though the cost of food has risen 25%. These cuts together with the projected budgeted lottery revenue that is, at this point, an unknown, will make things worse. Across the board federal budget cuts do not make sense, but prioritizing these cuts based on basic human need and survival do.
The Meals on Wheels Association of Pennsylvania is encouraging everyone to reach out to Congress this week, whether you are a Meals on Wheels volunteer or staff member, a senior, a family member, or any other interested and concerned citizen who understands the incredible value of these programs. Call or email your Member of Congress and tell your own story. Explain why Meals on Wheels and Senior Center congregate nutrition programs are important to you and why they should be protected from these drastic cuts that would ultimately cost taxpayers more money. Thank you.