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Budget Cuts Devastate Meals On Wheels: Enrollment Slashed, Services Cancelled

Heads of these programs described facing deep cuts after having already slimmed down in response to lean times over the past few years.

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The biggest change may be the cancellation of personal care services, such as helping the elderly with laundry and housekeeping. “We will probably have to transfer some funds from that to home delivered meals,” she said. It is also considering changes to its menus and switching to cheaper options, talking to clients about the importance of their financial contributions to the meals, and possibly going so far as to only deliver four days a week with a frozen meal for the fifth to save on mileage costs.

The agency has already cut staff due to stagnant funding over past years that hasn’t kept up with increased costs, so “there’s no more staff to cut and still be able to operate,” she said. It has also already cut some home repair and mental health services this year.

“I’m happy that Congress did something with the FAA,” she said. “But people don’t know this story yet and this is important too.”

Rapid City, South Dakota: Although Western South Dakota Senior Services, Inc. doesn’t yet know what the exact impact will be, the likely figure seems to be a 4.79 percent cut, which would take $25,000 out of the program, director Marsha Murray told ThinkProgress. “The only thing that we can really do is try to raise more money,” she said.

There are few other options for the organization. It has already closed its doors in two rural communities that didn’t have enough participation to warrant the cost. “It’s really too bad, because they’re in remote areas and they’re more food insecure,” she noted. There are some other high cost communities that it may have to look at closing due to sequestration.

It has also already cut staff over the past several years, “to the point where we’re pretty much barebones,” she said, and no one has received a wage increase in four years. It won’t be able to use many more volunteers without hitting up against federal requirements. “I kind of feel like we’re up against the wall here,” she said.

Memphis, Tennessee: The Metropolitan Inteter-Faith Assocation (MIFA) still hasn’t received specific details but is anticipating a budget cut of between 4 and 5 percent, director James Seacat told ThinkProgress. The program serves 1,800 meals each weekday. Ahead of getting final word on how much it will have to cut, likely by July 1, it has asked each department to come up with a budget that trims 5 percent.

Depending on final figures, the program will consider a mix of cost savings and cuts to services, he said. But it’s already done a lot of “belt tightening” in expenses over the past six or seven years and there may not be much left to cut. “There’s just not a lot of fat really,” he said. Sequestration cuts come on top of already lean times. “It’s really a quadruple whammy for us,” he said, “with government funding being down, expenses including gas and food costs are up, the population who needs our services of course is growing, and private donations are either flat or in some instances declining.” But the need is huge: Tennessee is ranked fifth in the nation for senior hunger.



Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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