Sequestration could mean fewer meals for seniors

10:19 AM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - West Michigan agencies continue to watch what is going on in Washington D.C. and brace for the potential impact of sequestration. One of those organization is West Michigan Meals on Wheels.

Lisa Wideman, director of operations for the Senior Meals Program says sequestration cuts could leave some seniors without food.

"We provide up to two meals a day 7 days a week for people. When we have to make hard decisions and service reductions we take a look at who is in most need, what their priorities are and whether they have support like local families," she said.

Getting proper nutrition during seniors years is critical for people to stay healthy and strong. Yet, 1 in 7 seniors in this country is threatened by hunger. Meals on Wheels helps fill the gap.

"I think for the most part it is about the only meal many of them get. They don't have to buy or prepare them. They just warm them up and enjoy them," said Terry Baker, a retiree who has been delivering meals for the past 4 years.

89-year Jerry Haveman of Grand Rapids is one of those clients. The widower and World War II veteran has had a rough go of it lately. He has arthritis in his hands and back, recently lost most of his vision in both eyes a fell and broke his hip just last month.

Haveman says he lost weight and almost lost his will to live while he was hospitalized.

"I wanted to come home from the hospital to come home and pass away."

In fact, his condition was so bad Haveman was put in hospice care. But lately things are looking up for him.

"I'm getting stronger and stronger all the time," he said, thanking his daily Meals on Wheels for helping him get back on his feet.

"I need to keep up my strength. All of it is very delicious and very good. If I didn't have them I wouldn't be able to stay in my own home. "

The West Michigan Meals on Wheels serves more than 1,200 seniors a day. Workers and volunteers cook, pack and deliver nutritious meals for seniors who cannot do it for themselves.

Wideman says the organization does not yet know what the full impact of sequestration would be.

"Well it is a really scary topic for us right now because there are a lot of unknown factors. But, we do have some projections from our national association," she said. "It looks like we could stand to lose as much as $50,000 and possibly much more. That is going to translate into about 12,000 meals. And, that is a great concern to us because there has already been a number of reductions. The economy has not been very good. Givers have not been able to give what they have in the past. We have really tightening our belts over the past few years and our ability to continue to do that without affecting our services is really questionable."

She says the program could stand to lose as much as $75,000 locally which mans making hard decisions about who gets food and how much.

"Oh, it would be a huge blow because the senior population is growing. Our numbers of individuals served, I believe, we are up over 200 since the first quarter of last year," she said. "For so many programs the thought process is let's try to help people become more sustainable on their own. Seniors most often don't have the ability to do that. Especially our meals on wheels clients. They are the most frail clients our community has."

Which is why service reductions could have a detrimental effect that goes beyond receiving fewer meals.

It is not uncommon for our drivers to find someone on the floor, someone in need of medical attention or someone doesn't come to the door. We don't know why so we call their emergency contact," said Wideman. "We have already cut back from 5 days delivery to 3 because of funding reductions in the past. When individuals are isolated and don't have family nearby, nobody is checking on those people. The only person, often times, they see during the week is our drivers. Every day we have to cut back is less contact with people, less safety checks going on. Every time we have to do that a little piece of us dies."

The latest estimate is that sequestration cuts threaten the funding for 4 million meals statewide and another $1.8 million dollars in other nutrition assistance for seniors.

Wideman says they are considering the possibility of having to reduce weekend and second meals for some seniors.

Jerry Haveman says he is frustrated about what is going on in Washington D.C. He feels cutting meals to people who need it most is unthinkable.

"There are many, many people who are in as bad a shape I am or worse. They could not get their own meals either. If Meals on Wheels wasn't delivered to them they would have to be in a nursing home or someplace where they could be taken care of," he said. "I don't know how these people will survive if they don't have it."

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