Sequestration Cuts Budget for Senior Services: Broward Meals on Wheels Loses $207,000

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In case you haven't heard: This year's farm bill was yet another, epic disaster.

You may be wondering why it even matters, but in it lies a deluge of pending legislation -- most of which has little to do with sowing farmland.

Just like WIC and food stamps, the Federal Older Americans Act (OAA) falls under the farm bill -- and it is responsible for the funding of senior services.

Broward Meals on Wheels (BMOW), best-known for its home-delivered meal plans for seniors, receives 65 percent of its annual resources from OAA. The organization was hit with a $207,000 cut for the rest of the fiscal year earlier this month.

Clean Plate Charlie spoke to BMOW's executive director, Mark Adler, about the sequestration's impact on the agency.

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Starting July 1, BMOW had to create a waiting list for home-delivered meals for new clients. Now needy seniors will be able to receive services from the program only when others are taken off.

The OAA is considered discretionary spending by the federal government. Unlike entitlement programs, such as WIC and food stamps, it hasn't been set aside from budget cuts that have taken place due to sequestration.

General cuts for nondefense spending were anticipated to equate to 5.2 percent. The reality ended up meaning 8.3 percent at the state level.

The agency was budgeted to serve 1,300 homebound seniors with ten meals -- five breakfasts, five dinners -- per week. Currently, the agency is over that weekly budget by about 60 people.

"Demand is not decreasing; it's increasing," says Adler. "With the budget, we've had to look at serving those most in need first."

Once a year, the agency is funded to perform an assessment on each client. If individuals are no longer homebound or have had a change of living situation -- moving in with friends or relatives -- they are urged to pay for services or are often paired with volunteer shopping programs, in which Good Samaritans go to markets to shop for seniors who have a hard time getting out of the house.

As it stands, BMOW serves 10,000 seniors annually with a budget of $5.2 million.

The 2012 Census indicated that 362,455 seniors over the age of 60 are living in Broward County -- and the number keeps growing.

Nationally, it is estimated that one in seven senior citizens is in risk of hunger. That means that around 80,000 senior citizens in Broward County are in danger.

"We hoped that we weren't going to get hit with it until 2014," Adler says. "When the state sent us the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, we saw that it was cut."

In addition to instituting the waiting list, BMOW is attempting to increase funding through grant writing, management of care contracting, expanding its donor base, and increasing the number of paid clients.

The agency is also looking for volunteers to help with meal deliveries, working at the senior centers, and administration work.

According to Adler, it is not expecting to see the budget extended.

"Now we're only able to serve those most in need going forward, and that doesn't look like it's going to change in the near future," says Adler. "With a population growing exponentially, that's only going to get harder."

Broward Meals on Wheels is located at 451 N. State Road 7 in Plantation. Call 954-731-8770, or visit bmow.org.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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