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Sequestration threatens programs for elderly
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While much of the talk about sequestration has focused on cuts to the military and civilian employees, federal budget cuts will also impact  senior citizens.
Locally, the impact on programs remains to be seen, according to Senior Citizens Inc. executive director Patti Lyons. Senior Citizens, Inc. administers Liberty County’s Meals on Wheels, the Liberty County Senior Center and an adult daycare program.
While federal cuts to the Administration on Aging are trickling down through state and local budgets, Lyons said she likely will not learn until June how to budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.  
“I do know that there are plans for it to have a pretty big effect on Liberty County,” Lyons said. “Last week, I met with the director on Aging in Georgia and was told that sequestration would have an effect, but we don’t know what that will be.
“It’s truly my hope that our federal representatives are going to come to an agreement so that it does not affect, what I consider, the most vulnerable population in America, which is our older adults.”

Services affected
Meals on Wheels serves at least one hot meal per day to 107 people in Liberty County; another 61 are on the waiting list.
The Liberty County Senior Center offers programs five days a week that can accommodate up to 60 ambulatory participants, and a nurse-run adult daycare three days each week provides care to up to eight seniors who need supervision.
Before sequestration was a factor, Lyons said the organization was notified it would lose “almost half” of its funding because the 2010 Census indicated the population of seniors had migrated toward Atlanta and North Georgia.
The center overcame that funding hurtle with a grant from the United Way of the Coastal Empire’s Liberty County office.
UW Liberty Director Jennifer Darsey said the organization’s initial $5,000 grant request would have required severe cuts to the adult activity center, “but the local United Way board and allocations panel felt strongly that we needed to do whatever we could in order to help sustain the activity center’s current level of participation.”
To prevent reductions, the UW Liberty allocated $32,000 specifically to the center, and the group approved increases for other programs such as Meals on Wheels, Darsey said.  
“We went to the table and basically said, ‘How much money will it take to keep all of these seniors enrolled?’” Darsey said. “We think it’s an excellent place. It’s one of our favorite nonprofits, and they do a lot of good in the community. For these seniors, that’s kind of their lifeline, their activity, their fun time.”
But Lyons said the grant funds may not span the divide between revenues and expenditures that results from sequestration.
“We are very thankful that United Way has jumped in with a lot of extra money. It’s truly our hope that it’s not going to affect anybody that is currently getting services,” Lyons said, adding the city of Hinesville and Liberty County also have been advocates for the programs.
“Our goal is to not remove anyone from our current list of clients. Once we know the level of funding cuts and if it looks like we can’t maintain that goal, we will be in touch with you, the city and county, United Way and all of the community to see how we can respond.”

Meals on Wheels
The Meals on Wheels Association of America has monitored the nationwide issue.
According to the 2012 “Senior Hunger in America: An Annual Report” by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, one in seven seniors is threatened by hunger, and 8.3 million seniors faced threat of hunger in 2010. That’s a 78 percent increase from 2001 and a 34 percent increase from the start of the recession in 2007.
Further, Georgia is listed among the 10 states with highest rates of hunger among seniors.
Still, Georgia will see a 8 percent cut for its congregate nutrition services budget, which was reduced from more than $10 million to $833,711, according to a chart from the MWOAA. Of those funds, home-delivered nutrition services will see a 4 percent cut.
The number is less than both the 5 percent average and 5 percent median reductions for home-delivered nutrition services, but Lyons said those cuts only represent a piece of the puzzle.
“I know that the state administrative offices are trying to absorb as much of is as possible. …,” Lyons added. “They’re hopeful that our senators and representatives are going to come to an agreement, and they won’t have to do this.”
Meals on Wheels locally are prepared in Savannah and driven to Liberty recipients.
Lyons said she does not want to alarm any recipients and the group will continue to serve as many people as possible.
The cost to feed one senior in the program is $1,000 per year.
She implored the community for help. Encouraging congressional action also is a step people can take.

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