With the possibility of more sequestration reductions, senior citizen service in Prineville and elsewhere may lose more funding

by: KEVIN SPERL - Roland Thompson, left, Joyce Jollo, Neva McPherson and Jean Birkby play bridge at the Soroptimist Senior Center last week.

In 2013, sequestration became a household word, originating with the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA).

As an effort to reduce the country’s federal debt, the BCA designated spending caps for discretionary and non-discretionary programs.

Among the discretionary programs impacted is the Older Americans Act (OAA), enacted in 1965 to provide state funding in support of community planning and services to older Americans at risk of losing their independence.

The Soroptimist Senior Center, in Prineville, is one of the community service organizations funded by the OAA, as managed by the Central Oregon Council on Aging (COCOA).

“It’s hurting us now,” said Melody Gibson, the center’s coordinator, referring to initial cuts that were implemented in November 2013.

“We used to be paid two different rates for lunches,” she explained, “one rate for in-house meals, and another for home delivery. We are now paid a single rate for both.”

As it turns out, those cuts may not have been the last.

“Currently, there has not been a definitive direction by Congress to lessen the potential sequestration reductions slated for January,” said Nicole Palmateer, spokesperson for Oregon Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities (O4AD) .

According to the O4AD, federal sequestration cuts, if continued, will have negative impacts on Oregon’s older adults.

Rodney Schroeder, Chair of O4AD, added, “It is our sincere hope that Oregon’s delegation will support and prioritize investment in the Older Americans Act programs to avoid seniors losing services and supports such as meals at the local level. Older Americans Act programs in Oregon are currently funded at $1 million less in this current fiscal year, and further potential sequestration reductions should not continue to be on the backs of seniors.”

In addition to nutrition and meal services, popularly known as Meals on Wheels, other OAA funded services include caregiver and transportation services and health promotion and disease prevention.

According to the 2012 U.S. census, 15 percent of Oregon's population of almost 4 million is age 65 and older. In Crook County, 22.4 percent of the population falls into that age range.

Providing 50 home delivery meals, and 90 in-house meals, per day, Gibson has learned not to rely, solely, on funding from OAA.

“The cuts so far have indeed impacted us,” she said, “but we are able to raise additional money with proceeds from our Neat Repeat retail store and donations from seniors that eat lunch here.”

In addition to budget cuts, the overall economy also has an impact on the center’s operations.

“It used to be that over 95 percent of seniors receiving home delivery could give us a donation,” she said. “Now, less than 80 percent do so.”

The Soroptimist center is not alone.

A fall 2013 survey from the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) found that 84 percent of their member agencies indicated that if reduced federal funding continues in FY 2014, they will not be able to provide the services necessary to meet the demand in their communities.

And, what would further cuts mean to Gibson?

“It’s just going to get tighter and tighter,” she said. “But, the seniors know that this is their facility and they are very aware of the financial situation. They all donate as much as they can.”

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