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Cuts may mean no new Meals on Wheels clients

State budget slashing also may hurt Hall’s dial-a-ride program

POSTED: February 2, 2009 11:04 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

A volunteer boasts a Meals on Wheels sticker on her car Monday. The group is just one of the programs to assist the elderly that could face state budget cuts this year.

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The latest in a string of budget cuts at the capitol could leave some Hall County senior citizens without a warm meal.

Meals on Wheels in Hall County will lose approximately $23,000 next fiscal year, meaning it will not be able to accept any new clients.

But amid the state budget crisis, Community Service Center Director Phillipa Lewis Moss said she saw it coming.

"It’s disappointing. It’s not surprising and we’re going to have to work really, really hard to minimize the negative impact on older adults in Hall County," Moss said.

The good news is that Meals on Wheels is stable enough financially that it won’t have to stop delivering meals to any current clients.

"It actually won’t have a huge impact on our delivery because we don’t typically count on the use of these funds until the end of our fiscal year," Moss said. "We are not reducing delivery at all."

However, there still are people in Hall County hoping to get Meals on Wheels who now won’t be able to.

"Without those state ... dollars there could be some people on our waiting list that we could add on that we won’t because we lack those funds. And/or it could be that we could have provided some emergency shelf-stable meals for some people for inclement weather and so forth that we won’t be able to do," Moss said.

As the state works to close a $2.2 billion budget hole, it’s slashing about $18.9 million from Meals on Wheels, adult day care, in-home respite programs and other initiatives that advocates for the elderly say help senior citizens stay in their own homes rather than enter costly nursing homes.

Advocates estimate that the cuts to elderly nutrition programs will mean the loss of 138,000 meals from the roughly 3.9 million delivered to homes or provided through senior centers.

In Hall County, a $23,157 shortfall will translate into 5,741 fewer meals.

"There’s nothing that gives (Meals On Wheels staff) more grief than knowing there are older adults out there in our community, our family members, that are out there waiting for meals that we can’t serve," Moss said. "It makes us all crazy and incredibly sad."

Volunteers like Shelba Merritt are worried about the impact funding cuts could have on the senior citizens Meals on Wheels serves.

"I’m very disappointed that that’s where the budget cuts are coming from," Merritt said.

Merritt, who has been volunteering during her lunch break for the last three years, said many homebound seniors need Meals On Wheels.

"They depend on this food, they don’t have any other means," Merritt said. "We’ll continue to volunteer and do the best we can."

But Meals on Wheels is not the only program that could suffer as a result of lowered funding.

Many senior citizens who use the county’s dial-a-ride bus service for transportation could be in trouble come June.

"We get money through the Department of Human Resources for what we call coordinated transportation. And those are the dollars we use to take the dial-a-ride buses to take our seniors throughout Hall County and bring them to our Senior Life Center there on Prior Street," Moss said. "We’re not going to get all of the dollars that we typically get. As of May 31, we will have run out of transportation money to pick up and drop off seniors at the Senior Life Center."

Moss said talks still are under way to figure out what to do between May 31, when the money runs out, and June 30, when the new fiscal year begins.

But there are several ideas, including reducing the number of trips to the Senior Life Center and asking family members to volunteer and offer rides to senior citizens.



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