As House Weighs Budget, Meals On Wheels Programs Brace For Possible Cuts

Apr 1, 2015

Dick Jaeger (left) talks with Donald Patten as he delivers meals for the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council.
Credit Sean Hurley, NHPR

With House lawmakers set to vote on proposed two-year state budget Tuesday, one program that’s facing a potentially significant cut is the Meals on Wheels program.

The House Finance Committee is recommending a $10.6 million cut in general non-Medicaid appropriations, a 50 percent reduction to the fund that helps pay for Meals on Wheels.

Roberta Berner is director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council.

She joined Morning Edition to talk about how the proposed cuts could affect the people her program serves.

The House budget, if approved, is obviously preliminary, and the Senate will have its own recommendations on a budget.

But what’s your biggest concern about the cuts as proposed?

I’m concerned about all of the cuts proposed to elder services. I’m concerned about the proposed elimination of ServiceLink, which provides information and counseling. I’m concerned about the proposed cut to home-delivered meals, congregate meals, transportation, and also some services that our agency doesn’t provide, but our clients benefit from; adult in-home care, for example.

What are some of those impacts?

Part of the impact depends on whether it’s state general funds alone or state general funds and also the federal funds that the state general funds match.

In either case, are we talking about losing staff? Are we talking about some programs just not being able to happen anymore?

For our agency, and we serve a lot of meals, a lot of people out there in the rural Grafton County communities. We’re looking at a 90,000 meal reduction out of about 205,000 meals. That would be both congregate and home-delivered meals. 

We're looking at a 90,000 meal reduction out of about 205,000 meals. That would be both congregate and home-delivered meals.

  We are looking at reductions in staff. We are looking at reductions in senior center hours or even closure of some senior centers. There is just no way we could absorb a $600,000 cut to services and a $400,000 cut to ServiceLink and provide services that we currently do.

You’re talking about a 90,000 meal a year reduction?

Yes.

Have you seen more demand over the past 5-10 years for your Meals on Wheels services?

Yes. Our region of the state is aging rather dramatically and there are communities up here in Grafton County that are already have populations comprised of 40 percent of people over the age of 65. So we’re looking at an aging populations of people that we serve tend to be on the older side of aging. I would say a big portion of our clients are 85 and older.

The budget can be a moving target, so are you worried at all that these kinds of proposals being thrown out can unnecessarily scare those who need help from your program?

That’s what I really hope doesn’t happen. When I first hear about the cuts, my first inclination was to shield our staff and clients from the news because I just thought I’d hate to say the sky is falling if it really isn’t. But it’s in the news; I don’t want to panic people. I don’t want to be unnecessarily alarmist. But on the other hand, it is the way the House is proposing the budget go forward.