Meal Recipients Fear Funding Uncertainty
Smith, Craig, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
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. …