On March 19, several local senior citizens gathered at the Cassville Senior Center to protest a state funding cut that will severely impact senior center meal programs across Missouri. The seniors signed paper plates, which will be mailed to state legislators.
"This is a crusade that is going on statewide," said Linda Parker, Cassville Senior Center administrator. "The state has announced a $2.1 million cut to our home delivered meals budget. This will be devastating to us."
According to the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging, senior centers located in Barry County will lose around $29,200 in 2010 due to the budget cut.
The Cassville Senior Center will be the most severely impacted. The local meals program will lose $13,900. The Monett Senior Center will lose $9,300 and the Central Crossing Senior Center in Shell Knob will lose $6,000.
"If you figure that each meal costs $5.45 then you will see that Barry County senior centers will lose the money needed for 5,358 meals," said Parker.
According to projected numbers, the budget cut will force the Cassville Senior Center to serve 2,600 fewer meals in 2010. The Monett Senior Center will lose funding for around 1,700 meals, and Central Crossing will be forced to serve 1,100 fewer meals.
"All of the senior centers in our district are doing paper plate messages," said Linda. "Some of the messages that have been written on our plates are, 'Please don't cut our meals program' and 'How should we decide who gets to eat?'"
Around 300 signed paper plates will be mailed to Rep. David Sater. Local seniors hope that the plates will inspire Sater and other legislators to rethink the meals program funding cut.
"We are hoping our representatives and senators see that each one of these plates represent a meal," said Parker. "Most of our seniors are so financially stressed that they barely get by anyway. If we lose this money, it will be quite a challenge to provide for them. Even without the funding cut, we are strapped."
Only 6.2 percent of the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging's budget is used for administrative costs, said Regional Supervisor Becky Pike. The agency uses over 93 percent of its budget to provide resources and programs for area seniors.
"This will hit us very hard in this economy with the rising cost of food," said Pike. "We were already tight. They should have looked at increasing the funding but instead they are decreasing it. This will make the impact worse on our already stressed budget.
"How are we to decide which seniors receive meals and which do not?" asked Pike. "A lot of time this is the only meal that a senior gets each day. Where are we supposed to begin to make those cuts without hurting people who are in need?"
Over the last few years, the cost of running a local meals program has increased over 12 percent due to higher transportation, labor and food costs, said Parker.
"It's a ripple effect," said Parker. "Everything across the board is going up. These seniors are dependent on our services. What should we do to provide for them? We would like our legislators to give us suggestions on what to do."