Fayette seniors rally at Capitol against possible budget cuts

From left: Anita Terry-McDonald, Lynn Manning, Karen Stephens, John Thompson, and Linda Pirog rallied for older adults at the Be There 4 Seniors event at the state capitol. Photo/Special.

Several members of the Fayette Senior Advocacy Council and other local supporters joined more the 600 senior citizen advocates Jan. 31 for the “Be There 4 Seniors Rally” at the state Capitol. The rally was held to protest possible budget cuts, such as the Meals On Wheels program, that organizers said would negatively impact seniors.

Fayette Senior Services (FSS) spokesperson Angela Bean said that with the current state of the economy the need for home delivered and congregate meals is at its greatest. According to recent statistics, hunger and lack of proper nutrition, commonly referred to as “food insecurity,” among senior citizens is expected to significantly increase across the nation.

In 2007, Georgia ranked 6th in the nation for the prevalence of food insecurity and currently 22 percent of Georgia seniors live alone, putting them at greater risk for food insecurity, Bean said.

“As it stands today, meals across the state are at risk for cuts, which could, in turn, risk federal funds for Meals On Wheels and congregate meals programs,” said FSS Executive Director Debbie Britt. “This translates locally to 18,000 meals. Meals On Wheels is more than a meal, it’s often the only social contact a homebound senior will have each day. No senior citizen should ever have to worry about getting good nutrition or being isolated.”

According to the Georgia Council on Aging, the FY 2010 Appropriations Act reduced state funding for Meals On Wheels and Congregate Meal Programs by $1,045,000. This funding not only provides vital services, said Bean, but it ensures the highest possible level of federal funding as well.

“Federal stimulus money supplanted state funds to ensure that these essential services continued without interruption. This same substitution of federal funding in the FY 2011 budget will not be able to be earned because the federal funding was expended by the end of May, 2010,” Bean said.

“With that money now gone, many are concerned that state funding won’t be restored. If state funding is restored it will provide congregate and home delivered meals to Georgia’s most vulnerable community-based citizens. Funds would be appropriated to the state Area Agencies on Aging to be used to support local programs like Fayette Senior Services Meals On Wheels.”

Commenting on what the reduction would mean in Fayette County, Britt said Meals On Wheels served 267 local seniors 38,400 meals at an average annual cost of $210,000.

Addressing Fayette’s future needs for Meals On Wheels, Britt said that based on Fayette’s demographics the older population is projected to grow by 450 percent by 2040.

“We can reasonably project that the demand for services will not decrease over the next few years. Fayette County has the third fastest growing senior population in metro Atlanta and demand for all of the services we provide are on the rise, especially transportation and in-home services like personal care. These services enable older adults to remain living independently in their own home,” Britt said.

For Britt, the potential shortfall in funding for programs such as Meals On Wheels would carry a significance that extends far beyond actual cash value. It extends into the personal realm, into the life of the recipient.

“Many people don’t realize what a lifeline a program like Meals On Wheels is to an older adult,” Britt explained. “Imagine if you could live on your own but you had diminished eyesight or had a chronic disease that simply made it difficult to prepare a hot, nutritious meal for yourself. What if you lived on a fixed income and you had to choose between buying fruits and vegetables or your prescription drugs? You likely would stop eating properly and in time, your health would decline. Meals On Wheels simply provides a little helping hand so our seniors can remain living in their homes for as long as they can with dignity and respect.”

The Fayette group at the Jan. 31 rally also met with Sen. Ronnie Chance and Rep. Matt Ramsey to ask that no more budget cuts be made to Home and Community Based Services like the Community Care Services Program (CCSP) and Supportive Services managed by senior centers to help older adults remain living independently in their own homes, said Bean.

Those services include Meals On Wheels, Transportation, Respite Care, Adult Day Care, Homemaker Services, Personal Care Services, Senior Center Meal Programs, Wellness Program Services and Minor Home Repairs. Bean said further reduction in funding for these core services will mean increased waiting lists and premature placement in nursing homes.