FACES OF AUSTERITY 2.0

How Budget Cuts Continue to Make Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure

CUTS HURT HUNGRY SENIORS

Number of Meals Served in Northeast Georgia Continues to Fall

Featuring: Eve Anthony, CEO, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens, Georgia

Photo Featuring Eve Anthony

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT: Ensuring Our Seniors Don’t Go Hungry

The federal government plays an important role in ensuring that our nation’s seniors have access to nutritious meals, regardless of their ability to leave their homes. Through three funding streams authorized by the Older Americans Act, the federal government provides funding and food to states and tribal organizations to help address hunger among seniors. Together, they are commonly referred to as the “Title III Nutrition Programs.”

Specifically:

Congregate Nutrition authorizes meals and related nutrition services in congregate settings, which help to keep older Americans healthy and prevent the need for more costly medical interventions.1
Home-Delivered Nutrition authorizes meals and related nutrition services for older individuals who are homebound. Home-delivered meals are often the first in-home service that an older adult receives, and the program is a primary access point for other home and community-based services.2
Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP) provides grants to states, territories, and eligible tribal organizations to support the Congregate and Home-Delivered Nutrition Programs by providing an incentive to serve more meals. States, territories, and eligible tribal organizations can choose to receive their grant as cash, commodities (e.g., food), or a combination of cash and commodities.3
Over time, funding has remained relatively flat between the three programs, reducing the number of seniors who are able to access slots for programs like Meals on Wheels due to increasing demand and decreasing value of the dollar In fact, a recent survey found that 1 in 4 Meals on Wheels programs has a waiting list for services.4

Funding for Title III Nutrition Programs at ACL
(in Millions of 2018 Dollars)

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Helping Seniors Stay Independent and at Home

The state of Georgia ranks 8th overall in state rankings for risk of hunger among older adults, and over 18 percent of Georgia residents ages 60 and older facing the threat of hunger.5

To address the tremendous need for food assistance, the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) is making great strides toward reducing food insecurity in the Barrow and Clarke Counties in northeast Georgia, serving 1,500 Georgians through their nutrition programs each year. ACCA serves home-delivered meals through their Meals on Wheels program to about 300 older adults in each day. These meals are a lifeline for the seniors who rely on them for nutrition and due to the requirement to provide meals that meet federal nutrition standards with federal funding, they help combat prevent malnutrition and chronic diseases.

Unfortunately, tight funding has reduced the number of seniors able to access the Meals on Wheels program in northeast Georgia. In 2014, ACC CEO Eve Anthony reported that ACCA served 77,000 meals to 326 people, down from 350 people at the program’s peak. This year, their funding will only support 62,000 meals delivered to 270 people, despite the continued unmet need.

Budget Cuts Continue to Threaten Seniors

In 2014, Eve told the story of the impacts of sequestration and other cuts at the federal level on the Center’s ability to provide services through their Meals on Wheels program in the Coalition for Health Funding’s report, Faces of Austerity How Budget Cuts Hurt America’s Health.6 Unfortunately, because of sequestration in 2013 and other budget cuts, senior nutrition and home-delivered meals programs in Georgia lost $5.3 million (a 3.74 percent cut), while congregate meal programs were cut by a whopping $10.1 million (nearly 8 percent).7

Ongoing shortfalls in federal funding left the future of these programs uncertain. In fact, cuts in federal funding meant potentially having to tell 14 of the 52 people receiving a hot meal every day at the Center for Active living that they would have to be cut from the program, at the time of the report.8

Three Years Later…

“Some things are better, some things are about the same, and some have gotten worse,” Eve says as she reflects on the last three years. To start on the bright side, Eve says that there has been an increase in overall awareness that has garnered some support from local business, as well as the state. This year, the Governor and the Georgia State Legislature allocated an additional $750,000 of funding for senior meal programs and $250,00 for reimbursement rate increase for meal providers. Georgia is also the first state to develop a Statewide Senior Hunger Plan, which outlines coordinated goals to address senior hunger throughout the state.

That said, new state and private sector funding has not made up for the losses of federal funds—funding that has remained flat since sequestration’s initial cuts, thus minimizing the overall impact that new state and business funding might have had. With the state funding increases this year, Eve was able to pull 10 Georgia seniors off the waitlist in her community. Still, with the number of seniors growing at a rate around 38 percent per year, gains made one year can quickly be lost.

“Our waiting list has about 40-50 seniors on it at a time, but that only reflects about half of those in need. Only those who are in the most need and who may be served within one year are eligible to be on the waitlist.”

 

In 2012, ACCA served approximately 96,000 meals per year. Today, that is down to just 62,000 meals due to an erosion of funding available at the state and federal level, coupled with increased costs for providing meals. However, cuts to nutrition funding are not Eve’s only concern, as the Center relies on other streams of federal funding to sustain operations. While the program administrators have done their best to stretch funding, she notes:

“We are concerned that so many of the federal programs we rely on to support the growing number of seniors in our community are in constant jeopardy of elimination or deep cuts. We are relieved when the programs remain in the budget, at decreased levels, when we should be celebrating increased levels of investment in our growing population of seniors who need the support.” 

Looking Forward

As the number of seniors continues to rapidly increase with the aging of the “Baby Boom” generation, Eve knows that the number of people in need of a hot meal will continue to grow. Still, she argues that it is best to invest in programs that keep seniors healthy, rather than paying the price down the road for care:

“We can provide a senior Meals on Wheels for one year for roughly the same cost as one day in the hospital or ten days in a nursing home. If we cut these prevention and public health efforts on the front end, we will end up spending more in medical costs and seniors will be less productive.”

Eve hopes that Congress will recognize the importance of senior nutrition programs like those at ACCA and across the country and increase the spending caps to allow for additional investment. In the meantime, the Center will continue to stretch every dollar they receive from the national and state governments, as well as whatever they can muster from private donations to try to make a dent in the shortfall.

SOURCES

1. https://www.acl.gov/node/650
2. https://www.acl.gov/programs/health-wellness/nutrition-services
3. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/nsip/pfs-nsip.pdf
4. http://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/mow-federal-funding-impact-infographic—may-2017.pdf?sfvrsn=2
5. https://www.nfesh.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/State_of_Senior_Hunger_2015-Annual_Report1.pdf
6. http://www.cutshurt.org
7. http://www.mowaa.org/document.doc?id=530
8. http://www.cutshurt.org/budget-cuts-leave-older-adults-at-risk-of-hunger/