Local lawmakers push for more Meals on Wheels funding

Local lawmakers push for more Meals on Wheels funding

As Congress debates carving millions from federal funds designated for programs for the elderly, local lawmakers want more city money allocated for Meals on Wheels.

City Councilwoman Alicia Hughes (I) is searching for roughly $52,000 in the fiscal year 2012 budget to pay for hot Sunday meals for homebound seniors. Local nonprofits have raised enough money to extend the program to Saturdays, but beneficiaries are only given cold meals for Sundays. 

I learned that the funding was not there to the extent that it should be and nonprofits actually stepped up, Hughes said. What about Sunday? What about all seven days? This is something that is really important.

Her push comes as lawmakers in Washington consider reeling in the amount spent on programs like Meals on Wheels through the federal administration on aging. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) highlighted the proposed cuts by delivering hot meals for seniors Friday morning. 

These are folks no one will see, Moran said. Its difficult for them to come out. Theyll get weaker and some will die sooner. Its the unseen cost of the cuts.

Were the cuts made law, Alexandrias Meals on Wheels program stands to lose roughly $56,000 in federal aid, said MaryAnn Griffin, director of the citys office of aging and adult services. 

With a $230,000 budget scrapped together from federal, state and local funding mostly federal a substantial reduction in Washington support could mean creating a waiting list for homebound seniors, Griffin said.

Volunteers already feed about 79 elderly residents each day at a cost of somewhere between $600 and $700, said program director Nancy McCormick.

Hughes put her fellow council members in an awkward spot last month, asking if the city could come up with $20,000 to begin extending the program to all seven days of the week through the end of the current fiscal year. 

They shot down the idea on the same night the city council approved spending about $9,000 to keep the holiday lights up and running along King Street.

It wasnt that Meals on Wheels didnt warrant the money, but proper protocol wasnt followed, said Mayor Bill Euille. 

The council took itself about 5 years ago out of the process of having organizations or individuals just coming up to us and saying I need this or that, Euille said. When you do it for one, others will come in and say, I heard the council gave X dollars to that organization, but I need Y dollars.

Nonprofit and charitable groups generally file financial requests for city funding with the department of human services. Budgets need to be submitted and reviewed before the city opens up its coffers to new or existing programs, Euille said.

Since there was no formal request from a representative of the Meals on Wheels program, shifting the $20,000 would have been bad form, he said. 

Still, no one is opposed to the program, the mayor said. Euille has volunteered with them in the past. 

Im very supportive of Meals on Wheels, he said. They cant always prepare meals for themselves and they depend on friends, relatives or neighbors and others and Meals on Wheels is one of those valuable programs. 

Hughes will continue pushing her colleagues to approve bankrolling the extra day before the start of the new fiscal year, but admits its not likely to gain support. Shes more optimistic city council will see fit to bolster Meals on Wheels in FY12. 

But the money wont come out of thin air. Hughes is actively searching for spending to curtail to offset her proposed financial help. 

Though she has yet to find something specific in the budget to cut, theres plenty of room for trimming in the city managers proposed spending, she said.

Im not an advocate of spending all money out of the budget, Hughes said. I am notorious for finding cuts on the budget. [Meals on Wheels] is just something that I value.