Stimulus won’t cover seniors’ meals

Published 11:59 pm Friday, March 27, 2009

The recently announced $1.5 million cut in funding for Alabama’s senior nutrition program will not cover the costs to replace meals cut from senior centers statewide, said Robert Crowder, director of the South Alabama Regional Council on Aging (SARCOA) Friday.

In October 2008, Covington County’s municipalities were notified by SARCOA that it was reducing the number of meals it funds for senior citizens here by 220 per week. Those cuts were necessary because of reduced funding and increases in meal costs and the cost of transporting those meals, Crowder said.

Earlier this month, an announcement by Vice President Joe Biden said that the Department of Health and Human Services would award $1.5 million in Recovery Act funding to provide meals to low-income seniors in Alabama. Nationwide, the funding is expected to provide nearly 14 million meals.

But none of those nearly 14 million meals will be served in the seven county region served by SARCOA, Crowder said.

“In our seven county region – which includes Covington — 1,050 meals per week were lost,” he said. “Some of our towns and cities elected to fund those meals until the legislative session was over. The majority of those couldn’t afford to.

“Our new fiscal year begins Oct. 1,” he said. “Right now, there is an estimated 17 percent increase for current meals in the 2010 budget — those stimulus funds won’t even cover that.”

This year, an additional $800,000 is needed statewide to keep meals at their current level, Crowder said. By 2010, that number increases to an estimated $1.6 million, he said.

“For this year and next, we’re talking, give or take, 800,000 meals or more across the sate that could be cut,” he said. “It’s true that the stimulus package at this point has given $1.5 million for meals, but that’s one time money.

“For those who say things are all right, it’s not all right,” he said. “That stimulus money will get us close next year to serve what we serve this year, but it won’t make up for the meals we lost this year.

“And not only that, in 2011, when that budget year starts, that stimulus money, in all likelihood will be gone and we’ll get another increase (in meal costs) on top of that,” he said. “If we don’t have the money in the program, you have to reduce meals.”

It will take the help of legislators to make up that additional funding, Crowder said.

To make them aware of their plight, SARCOA and seniors statewide have initiated a “Paper Plate Campaign,” he said.

Those plates, with written messages by seniors about the importance of funding the senior meal program, will be presented to legislators Wednesday, he said.

“What we’re asking for is a special appropriation for this year,” Crowder said. “The Legislature has always been very supportive of us and the services provide — especially those serving Covington County. We just hope the trend continues across the state.”