Meals on Wheels recipients fear funding uncertainty
Agnes Taulton depends on the meal that volunteers deliver to her home each day.
It is one of 15 million meals that Meals on Wheels serves in Pennsylvania each year.
“It means everything to me. ... I'm handicapped,” said Taulton, 78, of Clairton. “A person like me needs Meals on Wheels.”
Automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1 could mean the loss of more than 1 million meals annually for 10,000 seniors across the state, said JoAnn Nenrow, director of the Meals on Wheels Association of Pennsylvania.
Drafting contingency plans has been complicated by a delay in implementing the cuts — they were originally scheduled for January — and uncertainty over the size of the final allocations.
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging will notify its members this week to brace for the cuts.
“My current assessment is that they will go into effect,” said Amy Gotwals, senior director of public policy and advocacy.
But, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging is advising agencies to “sit tight” until it receives further guidance.
“We just don't know how to prepare for this. Do we lay people off now, or do we wait?” said Diane A. Menio, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly.
The cutbacks are triggered by congressional failure to trim $1.2 trillion in spending. Automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, called sequestration, will kick in March 1.
“These are seniors who are living independently in their homes with the help of home-delivered meals and senior center lunches,” Nenrow said. “If they did not receive meals, many could end up in a nursing home environment, which would cost the state and the federal government even more money.”
The federal government could reduce the $70 million to $80 million Pennsylvania receives each year for aging services by as much as $12 million, said David Gingerich, deputy secretary of the Department of Aging. Any reduction, he said, “would be extremely detrimental.”
“We're hoping a long-term deal is achieved, or a postponement,” Gingerich said.
Senate Democrats offered an alternative plan on Thursday to replace 10 months' worth of sequestration cuts. But lawmakers are off until Feb. 25 for their Presidents' Day recess.
Whether the package can get the votes of at least five Republicans — the number needed to overcome a likely filibuster attempt — remains uncertain.
The Department of Aging has reviewed scenarios for contingency planning but does not have final numbers from the federal government, Gingerich said. Under some scenarios, the shortfall could be higher than $12 million, he said.
The spending cuts could affect 650 home-bound seniors in Allegheny County who depend on Meals on Wheels through Lutheran Services, said John Dickey, chief operations officer.
“We're very concerned,” he said. “This could have a significant impact in Pennsylvania.”
Other services — from personal care to transportation, housing and energy assistance — could be cut, say advocates for seniors.
“We would hope that Congress does whatever it takes to avoid the sequester,” said Leslie Grenfell, executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, which serves 15,000 seniors in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.
In Westmoreland County, officials said predicting what might happen is difficult but any cutback in the food program would hurt.
“You're talking about the lifeline for this population,” said Ray DuCoeur, administrator of the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging. “It's essential.”
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitcairn police department 1st in Western Pennsylvania to carry Narcan for heroin overdoses
- Allegheny County police balk at plan for rangers to patrol parks
- Pittsburgh city vehicle repair delays elicit gripes about Cincinnati company
- Inbound Liberty Tunnel will reopen for morning rush
- Pittsburgh bishop throws cold water on ALS group, which uses embryonic stem cells
- Law targeting sexual violence prompts campuses to review, publish policies
- Suit over too-tall Pittsburgh Parking Authority meters nearly settled
- Pittsburgh Parking Authority break set for holiday motorists
- Police charge Steelers’ Bell, Blount with marijuana possession
- Scientists hope tiny robotic bee’s big dreams take flight
- Wilson Center event rentals thwarted by cooling system repairs