Sequestration hits home for local seniors

Posted Thursday, Jun. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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What is sequestration?

According to USA.gov, the U.S. government’s official web portal, it’s a process that automatically cuts the federal budget across most departments and agencies. That very action occurred when Congress could not agree on a budget, and to reduce the deficit by March 1. The result was sequestration and $85 billion in spending cuts went into effect.

Closer to home, Glenda Webb, Director of the Parker County Committee on Aging, said it’s having a "serious" impact on seniors who receive Meals-on-Wheels.

"Our funding is coming in at about half of the rate that it should be normally," Webb said. "Federal funds are being held back from senior nutrition programs until responsible action can take place in getting a budget passed."

In the meantime, she said funds are going to be sequestered and "held hostage" which, in effect, is holding programs hostage until the administration can account for its spending.

Several weeks ago, the Meals-on-Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) asked Webb, and others throughout the country, to complete a survey about challenges their programs may expect as a result of sequestration. The information collected through the surveys was termed as "critical" to making the case to members of Congress and the general public what federal cuts would do, and the consequences on the lives of seniors.

The MOWAA recently announced its findings of the survey, which clearly highlighted some of the devastating impacts of sequestration.

Among the findings, respondents said:

• Individual programs have been forced to cut, on average, 364 meals per week;

• More than 70 percent are establishing or adding to existing waiting lists;

• Individual programs have increased their waiting lists by 58 seniors on average;

• Approximately 40 percent of respondent programs have eliminated staff positions; and

• One in six are closing congregate meal sites or home-delivered meal programs.

"Because we have a reimbursement contract we were told that the remaining funds at the North Central Texas Council of Government - Area Agency on Aging - where our federal money goes through, that the remaining fiscal year 2012-13 money will be released sometime this month, but it’s been cut," Webb said. “It’s going to far less than what we had already budgeted for last October," which has become a problem for the more than 300 meals her facility serves each day.

More bad news

Just when she didn’t think it could get worse, transportation has also become an issue but not because of sequestration.

"We sub-contract with Public Transit to provide additional rides for very frail seniors that have to have individualized assistance," Webb said.

Now, however, federal monies can’t be used for rural transportation and has to be funneled through more bureaucratic red tape.

A letter sent to seniors that use the bus states, in part:

"There has been confusion regarding ‘senior services’ for the Parker County area therefore we felt it important to provide information to address any/all concerns that the senior community may have at this time. Please know that the partnership between Public Transit Services (PTS) and the Parker County Committee on Aging (PCCOA) is very strong and we have no plans to dissolve our agreement and/or services with PCCOA. At this time, only service modifications for PCCOA Senior Bus Service are required - and this action is strictly related to funding only, as grants that are utilized to support this program have not yet been released by TXDOT and/or NCTCOG. Public Transit Services is working diligently to obtain funds to ensure that services provided by the ‘senior bus’ continue. In fact, we have received positive feedback from the funding sources and feel the issues will be resolved in the very near future.

“Until that time, we respectfully request the PCCOA clients who utilize the ‘senior bus’ to minimize the number of trips taken from May 24 through Aug. 31. We do not anticipate that it will take until August 2013, howeve,r we are required to provide a deadline date that is consistent with our fiscal year. Should funding change prior to Aug. 31 (and we strongly believe it will), PTS will immediately notify PCCOA and the clients. Again, PTS will continue to use the PCCOA bus, however, trips provided on the senior bus shall be limited for a short time (TBD). All other trips will be scheduled on the PTS vehicle, with no disruptions to senior services.

The only problem, Webb said, is that the money is sitting in the NCTCOG bank account, ready to be used, and they are not releasing it because they are unsure how to.

"So a month ago we had to quit transporting some of our really frail seniors because there is no money to pay for it," Webb said.

She said she hopes individual donation and cash donations will increase to help balance the budget due to the sequestration and assist with the continuation of programs.

Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, Ext. 102 Twitter: @Lancwinter

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