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Area seniors may go hungry because of federal budget cuts
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Marguerite Bailey enjoys her lunch Friday from Meals on Wheels. - photo by CHARLIE WILLIAMS

Some seniors in Hall County may go without food through the Meals on Wheels program thanks to a looming second round of sequestration cuts in federal aid.

Georgia started waiting list of programs as it waits on the next round of cuts.

Sequestration, which began March 1, will total $1.2 trillion in the coming decade.

March was also the month the previous waiting list of more than 100 county residents was wiped out due to private fundraising.

Meals on Wheels, an elderly nutrition program housed in the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center, delivers hot lunches Mondays through Fridays to homebound residents. It serves about 350 seniors in Hall County and Gainesville. As of Friday, 65 seniors were on the list, and center Director Phillippa Lewis Moss said in a few months the list will exceed 100 again.

“Which is bad because we went through a lot of effort to get out of three-digit numbers several months ago,” Moss said. “We worked with the Community Foundation, Wyc Orr and folks from our community. We did a tremendous job and we raised lots of money, so we’ve been working on whittling down that waiting list and now here we have the state telling us we have to impose a waiting list because the state is so concerned about the possible impact of sequestration.”

It’s uncertain what the final percentage cut and dollar amount are going to look like for each community, but Moss said she’s expecting to lose about $65,000 for Meals on Wheels, the Senior Life Center in Gainesville and senior transportation.

Ashley Fielding, director of Legislative Affairs and Communications for the Georgia Department of Human Services, said it hasn’t received an official award letter yet.

“Programs funded by the Older Americans Act in Georgia will experience a 17 percent cut in funding during the current federal fiscal year due to the second round of sequestration,” she said in a statement.

“Those programs include home-delivered and congregate meals, family caregiver support services and preventative health services.”

Milon Christman, program coordinator for Hall County Meal on Wheels, said earlier this year it costs about $860 to feed one person annually.

Legacy Link Area Agency on Aging in Gainesville gets state and federal money to fund local services for the elderly such as Meals on Wheels and meals at the senior center.

The biggest cuts were in meal programs, CEO Pat Freeman said.

Legacy Link in Gainesville serves 13 counties in Northeast Georgia: Banks, Dawson, Forsyth, Franklin, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White.

“(These services) help people stay out of a nursing home,” Freeman said. “It prolongs people’s lives, they live longer if they have food. It’s that important.”

States, like Georgia, that are seeing the largest growth in the elderly population are also seeing the biggest cuts, Freeman said.

Orr, who played a pivotal role in eliminating the old waiting list, said he was disappointed needy seniors won’t get the food assistance they need. Private contributions are important, but they can’t substitute for government funding.

“It’s one thing to talk in theory about reduction of government spending, it’s one thing to talk in theory about how we need to reduce this program or that program,” Orr said. “But the human impact that you see with the practical application, with the real world application of these cuts, should give people pause.

“I hope that people realize that the real world effect of this can be hunger. We ought to be better than that in this country.”

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