Across the country, Meals on Wheels programs are slashing staff, reducing the number of meals delivered or shutting down. The programs receive money through the Older Americans Act, which is filtered through state governments, which divvy up the funds to local agencies based on factors such as size and levels of poverty.
Programs typically provide two hand-delivered meals a day; some make lunches for senior and community centers.
“These meals save me from doing so much work,” said Bruce Campbell, 81, a retired food-service manager and Hyattsville Meals on Wheels client who walks on a prosthetic leg. “Without it, I don’t know. I guess I’d cook for myself.”
Hyattsville’s service isn’t one of the multimillion dollar senior nutrition programs that put on lavish fundraisers. It is run by a 63-year-old church secretary and serves about a dozen clients, some of whom struggle to pay the $2.50 charge per meal. It illustrates the far-reaching consequences of the government impasse on Capitol Hill.
According to March 1 estimates, the sequester will result in a 5 percent decrease in Meals on Wheels programs in Maryland, Virginia and the District. Those cuts are slightly below the national average of 5.6 percent. Wealthier, urban areas fare better.
The cuts in the three jurisdictions threaten nearly 75,000 seniors, according to the Meals on Wheels Association of America. Officials in Montgomery County eliminated an empty position to fund programs until November, while officials in Fairfax County and the District have committed to use their coffers to make up for the loss.
“If this wasn’t happening, we could have used that money for more services,” said Sally White, executive director of Iona Senior Services, which delivers meals to seniors in Northwest Washington. “But you have to make do with what you have.”
Programs that feed seniors were suffering even before the sequester. Federal funding has flat-lined for years, while costs for food and gas have increased, said Jill Feasley, who directs the Meals on Wheels program in Takoma Park. It’s not unusual for programs to have waiting lists.
The organizations have found themselves trying to reimagine how they fund themselves. Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, which serves 1,300 clients in Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties and Baltimore city, has reduced its staff by 5 percent and will deliver food one day less a week.
Other programs have considered serving only frozen meals, Feasley said. Some might hold fundraisers.