Gov. Jay Nixon has announced a $150,166 withhold for the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging (SMOA), which will force senior centers across southwest Missouri to close three days over the next three months.
"The governor is balancing the budget, which he is legally required to do," said Dorothy Knowles, SMOA chief executive officer. "In order to do that, he is making withholds from organizations that funds have been allocated to.
"We have actually been blessed over the first nine months of this year when we didn't receive any withholds," said Knowles. "This withhold means that we will have to decrease our budget by $150,166 between now and July 1. With that in mind, we have needed to take fairly drastic steps, because we have a short window of time to reduce our services and expenses."
Over the next three months, the agency will select three furlough days when all administrative offices and many senior centers will be closed. The first closure will occur on Monday, April 5.
"We have a lot of staff, and a lot of our budget is spent on our meals programs," said Knowles. "We are obligated, under our policy, to balance our budget just like the governor is.
"We have always kept most of our money in services for seniors, which we are required to do," said Knowles. "Because of this, we don't have a big cushion to fall back on."
Although senior centers across southwest Missouri will be closed three extra days over the next three months, SMOA is committed to ensuring the health of homebound seniors who often receive their only nutritional meal through the meals program. Homebound seniors served through the program will receive a frozen meal the day before the closure.
"We have made some other cuts that will allow us to decrease our budget for fiscal year 2011," said Knowles. "We also hope to raise our contribution levels for homebound deliveries and in-center dining."
When considering the amount of money homebound seniors save in receiving in-home delivery of meals, Knowles hopes some seniors will elect to give a larger contribution for their meals.
"We deliver 800,000 meals to homebound seniors each year," said Knowles. "If each of those seniors could give just a quarter more for their meal, we would be in the black in no time.
"We know that our seniors are on fixed incomes, but if those who could help would it would make a big difference," said Knowles.
SMOA will also concentrate on promoting its adopt-a-senior programs, which allow community members to help pay for meal costs for homebound seniors.
"Our homebound delivery program is where we continue to lag," said Knowles. "Most of our seniors who come into the centers contribute the amount requested or more, but many of our homebound seniors can't."
Currently, SMOA is only planning to schedule three furlough days over the next three months, but the agency's budget expenses will be evaluated at the end of each month and two more furlough days could be scheduled to cut expenses.
"All our centers are locally owned by the seniors themselves," said Knowles. "If a senior center's board opts to remain open on those days, they have the right to do that. We just hope that they consider that we are trying to cut down on our utility expenses."
The Cassville Senior Center will also feel impacts of the governor's funding withhold as SMOA is forced to cut the amount of money contributed toward the center's salad bar.
"The center always takes donations for its salad bar, but we were receiving some funding from the agency," said Linda Parker, Cassville Senior Center administrator. "That funding has been cut, so we are hoping to receive more contributions to help fund our salad bar."
In addition to receiving funding from SMOA, the Cassville Senior Center hosts an annual Miles for Meals walk-a-thon and collects donations through its Dollar a Month Club and from local businesses, organizations and individuals for its meals program. The center serves around 64,000 meals each year.
For more information on the Cassville Senior Center's meals program or to contribute to the program, call 847-0131.