California agencies for seniors expect sequester budget cuts

The Sacramento BeeMarch 21, 2013 

— Agencies that serve seniors in the Sacramento County region are bracing for the hit: Federally funded programs for older adults - including the popular senior nutrition program - face automatic, across-the-board budget cuts as a result of the sequester.

But so far, no one knows exactly how much will be cut, or when, and no one wants to scare elderly recipients who use these services.

"As soon as we start talking about cuts to Meals on Wheels, our clients call wanting to know if we're closing down," said Donna Yee, chief executive officer of the Asian Community Center, which since 2011 has run Sacramento County's Meals on Wheels program.

"Our clients get anxious. The uncertainty of the situation makes it difficult."

More than three dozen agencies in the seven-county region served by the Area 4 Agency on Aging are on hold until they receive official word from the California Department of Aging, which distributes federal dollars to Older Americans Act programs.

Those programs include senior nutrition, in-home assistance, transportation help, caregiver respite and legal services.

Unofficially, though, word has begun to filter back that California's agencies serving older adults should expect statewide cuts of about 5 percent to transportation, preventive health and in-home caregiver support programs - and cuts of about 8 percent to the senior nutrition congregate meals program, said Area 4 Agency on Aging Executive Director Deanna Lea.

"What we're hearing from the National Association of Agencies on Aging and the National Council on Aging is that these cuts are real," she said. "It's hard to know what to prepare for, but you have to prepare."

Potential cuts would also include a reduction to the home-delivered meals program by more than 4 percent, she said.

For the Sacramento region, the lost senior nutrition funds could amount to about $100,000 for the fiscal year ending in July, she said - but that reduction could be compounded by the loss of federal dollars from other sources, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"People are hoping to maintain as many services as possible," said Lea. "Until we actually know the figures and period of time, it's very difficult."

Meals on Wheels by ACC is on track to serve 470,000 meals to seniors this year, said Yee. While 60 percent of those meals are delivered to the homebound elderly, the remainder are served at 23 sites around the county.

"With a reduction, so many fewer seniors would get care when they really need it," said Yee. "It's possible that seniors benefiting from the home-delivered meals would be discharged from the program because somebody else is more needy.

"Traditionally, people with the highest need have the highest priority to get served."

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