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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
What would Debra McKellar do if her mother was ever cut off from Meals on Wheels? The Vinton resident, 59, isn’t quite sure as to the answer.
McKellar works full time. “My father is dead. I have no brothers and sisters. My mother has macular degeneration. She’s insulin dependent and legally blind,” she said.
“Mom hasn’t cooked on an electric stove in three years because she can’t see. I’m afraid she’s going to burn her house down.”
That’s one reason her mom, Charlotte Haymaker of northeast Roanoke, receives Meals on Wheels five days each week.
About 650 home bound seniors in the Roanoke Valley and Botetourt, Craig and Alleghany counties get simple and nutritious lunches delivered to their homes each weekday through the Local Office on Aging.
But there’s a nasty little reverse-lottery game occurring right now: Because of the federal government’s budget sequester, at least $62,000 in local senior-services cuts are in the offing, and 50 Meals on Wheels recipients may have to be dropped from the rolls.
Elizabeth Davis, 98, is another of those 650. Twice widowed, she lives in an apartment in Raleigh Court. She knows what would happen if she didn’t have Meals on Wheels : She’d begin losing weight.
That’s what was happening several years ago, when Davis wasn’t eating right. “My doctor said, ‘I want you to go on Meals on Wheels,’ ” she told me. Almost as soon as she started, her weight stabilized.
Why is this happening now? It’s because Congress and the White House have been unable to work out their budget differences. They set a deadline to reach a deal, with automatic across-the-board cuts if they couldn’t. The deadline is past. Now we’re in “the sequester.” The cuts hit next week, said Shannon Abell , the LOA’s director of senior services.
They translate into about $2 million for senior services in Virginia, and between $62,000 and $74,000 locally. In some Virginia localities, agencies that serve the elderly are losing more than $200,000, Abell said.
In Washington, they’re saying, ‘It’s just 2.5 percent,’ ” Abell said. “To us, it translates into a 6.65 percent cut.”
Meals on Wheels isn’t the only thing on the LOA’s chopping block if the cuts go through. There will be cuts to a Diners Club program for needy seniors who are able to get out of their homes. Two of the seven clubs will be shut down; the remaining five will be scaled back.
LOA will have to drop two clients each from three other services it provides: adult day care; personal care (which includes grooming, bathing and dressing); and housekeeping.
Abell said they’ll also have to cut funding for the LOA’s taxi service, which transports seniors who can’t use RADAR buses or afford the fees. The program already has 17 people on a waiting list whom it can’t afford to serve.
McKellar said if her mother is cut from Meals on Wheels, she’ll lose another service. When volunteers deliver the meals, they make well-being checks on recipients. That’s invaluable to McKellar, who works in a government office in Roanoke.
“I go to my mother’s every day, every day of my life,” McKellar told me. On weekdays, she goes after work. If Haymaker was dropped from the program, “I would probably have to find somebody to check on her, or take my lunch hour and go see her every day.”
McKellar added: “To have something like this taken away — I can’t imagine. They should add to it.”
She has a point, because Meals on Wheels is the epitome of frugal spending.
The meals cost taxpayers roughly $4 per recipient per day. That’s a pittance to keep seniors in their homes. Without that food, many would wind up in nursing homes.
“If they go into a nursing home, who pays for it? You and I — through Medicaid,” Abell said. “The average cost is $200 per day.”
Of course, spending one buck to save another $49 is not necessarily the Washington way. Cutting a buck in order to spend $50 sounds more like it. In that respect, both seniors and taxpayers are losers with these budget cuts.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to send hundreds of millions abroad as foreign aid, spend billions per month on a fruitless war in Afghanistan and underwrite scientific research on subjects such as the sexual organs of male ducks.
“This isn’t a study about whether or not a grape will turn into a raisin,” Abell noted. “This is food in people’s bellies.”
And they’re the neediest people out there. When is Washington going to wake up?
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