Meals on Wheels could face cuts

The Geary County Senior Center serves meals to about 60 to 70 housebound senior citizens through Meals on Wheels. However, if funding to the program is cut on the federal level, Meals on Wheels may find itself needing other funding sources. This is assuming it doesn't go away entirely.

Meals on Wheels provides lunch on a daily basis for about 60 to 70 area senior citizens, but this service may be in jeopardy under the proposed federal budget.

According to Executive Director of the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging/ADRC Julie Govert Walter, the program could take a serious hit, even depriving certain smaller towns of Meals on Wheels entirely.

The program receives about 45 percent of its funding from contributions made by the people who benefit from the program. However, a significant amount of funding for Meals on Wheels comes from federal sources — about 35 percent. This comes to about $911,510. 

The state only contributes about 20 percent of the program’s funds.

The total budget for meals served by senior centers across the state — both Meals on Wheels and in the centers themselves — comes to about $2.6 million.

The federal funds include money from both the Department of Agriculture and from the Older Americans Act.

According to Walter, who presides over an 18-county region which contains Geary County, the Older Americans Act budget is the main source of funds for friendship meals — which includes both food served in senior centers and delivered to seniors with limited mobility.

If federal funds are cut, Meals on Wheels programs will have to lean much more heavily on local funding — if they’re not eliminated altogether. 

The city, the county, and local donors may find themselves trying to keep the Geary County Meals on Wheels program afloat. Director of the Geary County Senior Center Debbie Engel said she didn’t know if the city and county would even have the money to sustain the program. If the fund aren’t available, the Geary County Senior Center and others like it may have to reduce services to local seniors who use this program.

A reduction of services could include fewer days where the Senior Center provides food.

“We don’t really know all the facts yet about what’s going to happen with the Meals on Wheels budget, but should the news be bad, that’s what we’ll have to do,” Walter said. 

She and her agency are keeping their eye on the situation in Washington.

“Should the Meals on Wheels or any part of the Older Americans Act be cut, we know it will significantly affect the lives of older Kansans and their family caregivers,” Walter said.

Meals on Wheels doesn’t only provide vital nutrition — it also provides some of the only social interaction some housebound seniors receive on a daily basis.

“We know that isolation is a big factor for seniors,” Walter said. 

Housebound seniors may find themselves heading to assisted living facilities much earlier than they otherwise would if vital services such as Meals on Wheels vanish. 

According to Walter, this would cost much more than a daily meal provided by a senior center program. Seniors who can live independently in their own homes can, if nothing else, contribute to the local economy by paying property taxes on their houses and spending money at local pharmacies and stores.

On average, the meals cost about $5.25 per meal, though the suggested donation for lunches served by the senior center is about $3.50 — if seniors can afford it. This price applies to both meals served in the senior center’s dining area and those delivered by volunteers with Meals on Wheels.

The Geary County Senior Center has about 35 volunteers, some of whom need to be paid mileage.

“That daily cost is a lot cheaper than somebody needing to go to assisted living or to a nursing facility,” Walter said. “Kansas taxpayers — through Medicaid — end up paying the total cost of that person’s living arrangements.”

The impact would definitely be felt locally, the same as everywhere else that benefits from Meals on Wheels.

Engel said the senior center serves about 100 to 120 meals daily, Monday through Friday.

All of the 60 to 70 local beneficiaries of Meals on Wheels are over 60 years old. 

“Most of them aren’t able to cook for themselves maybe anymore or don’t trust themselves using the stove or the microwave,” Engel said. “Some of them aren’t able to get anywhere to get groceries.”

If seniors don’t have families in town who can help them with transportation, Meals on Wheels may be their primary source of food and their only guaranteed meal of the day.

In 2015, a total of 25,322 meals were served by the Geary County Senior Center, according to Walter — 15,767 of these were delivered to seniors’ homes.

Walter, for her part, has confidence in Kansas’ elected leaders to ensure Meals on Wheels and other services provided through the Older Americans Act remain in place. However, she encourages people who are concerned with the wellbeing of their older relatives, friends, and neighbors to pay close attention to what’s happening in Washington.

Contact U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall’s Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2715 or (785) 829-9000 to ask him to support federal funding for Meals on Wheels.

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