Senior meals program gets boost

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will receive $1.92 million in federal funds for senior nutrition programs over the next two years.

"This funding is among the first stimulus package programs actually to reach the people by providing real services and help to those who need it," said Margaret Donnelly, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director. "And the program certainly is among the most important."

Although the funds will benefit the nutrition programs offered at local senior centers over the next two years, additional funding will be needed to sustain the programs in 2011, said Dorothy Knowles, Southwest Missouri Office on Aging chief executive officer.

"This year, the general assembly cut our core budget by $1.4 million," said Knowles. "We will receive the stimulus funds over a 15-month period, which means we will get one-fifth of the funds now and four-fifths of the funds will be distributed between July 1 and June 20, 2010.

"The stimulus funds will give us a slight gain, however the problem will come next July," said Knowles. "Since our core budget was cut, there won't be anything to replace the funds unless the general assembly acts to replace the regular funding."

In 2009, the senior nutrition program received around $1.9 million. After the $1.4 million funding cut, the program will receive $450,000 in general revenue next year, said Rep. David Sater, who serves as appropriations chair for the Mental Health and Senior Services Committee.

"We knew we would be getting the federal stimulus money, and with that money, the meals program will actually get an increase of $550,000 over last year," said Sater. "Now what do we do next year? That has been my whole concern since day one. When you have all of these ongoing programs and you don't have money to fund them what do you do?"

According to Sater, Missouri legislators have predicted a 4 percent decrease in general revenues next year, which could make it more difficult to fully fund many programs.

"I hope it turns around," said Sater. "I can start to see the sunlight now, but every year we have inflation and more people using these services with the baby boomers getting older. People are also living longer.

"It is a difficult situation," said Sater. "For this year, the program will receive more than last year due to the federal stimulus money. We will just have to wait and see what the budget is next year. Maybe the economy will be better."

Local meals programs also need funding for capital improvements, said Knowles. This funding will not be available due to the cut in core funding.

"We have equipment that is 25 years old," said Knowles. "Some of this equipment is nickle and diming us to death, but we can't afford to replace it.

"We hope that our legislators will be able to see the importance of maintaining the meals programs," said Knowles. "These programs save Missouri money in the long run, because they keep seniors from going to long-term care facilities where most seniors expend their resources within six months."

The Southwest Missouri Office on Aging plans to hold several meetings with legislators this fall to promote the nutrition program.

"We want to see if legislators plan to propose the reinstatement of the funds," said Knowles. "If they don't, we will have to try to muster up enough advocacy to get the reinstatement passed."

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