LISBON - A program that provides meals to people over the age of 60 is facing major cuts due to continuing reductions in federal and state funding and rising operating costs.
"This is just not sustainable," said Carol Bretz, director of the Community Action Agency (CAA) of Columbiana County, which has served as the local administrator of the Senior Nutrition Program.
The program provides daily lunches to 225 people over the age of 60, half at designated sites in Lisbon, Salineville, East Liverpool, Wellsville, Leetonia and Salem. The remainder are delivered to homes by CAA staff.
The program currently costs $447,891 to operate, which is subsidized with $332,331 in federal and state funding, leaving a deficit of $145,560. The CAA has usually been able to close the gap by providing matching funding, something it has done for years.
But Bretz and Joseph Rossi, CEO of the district office for the state Area Agency on Aging, said the CAA contribution is no longer enough. They reported the program will run a $63,000 deficit this year even with the CAA's contribution of $82,500, which comes from its annual federal Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) allocation.
The problem is due to program funding cuts at the state and federal level and increased operating costs - caused by rising fuel prices - faced by the Youngstown company the CAA contracts with to provide the meals. Funding cuts at the state and federal level are also being felt by the CAA, which receives almost all of its operating money from those sources, and the Agency on Aging.
Rossi said the Agency on Aging will cover the loss this year but must start looking for a new provider. The result will be a program that is likely to look much different in 2012, but at what level remains to be seen.
Although there is no income requirement for participation in the meal program, Bretz said the vast majority are low income and, in the case of the homebound, usually have no one to look after them.
"These folks really need these meals," she said, adding they have a list of about 75 people waiting to get on the program. Participants are asked to make a donation of $1.25 per meal but it is not required.
An annual CAA survey of program participants show one-third are 75 and older, 67 percent live alone and 64 percent have an annual income below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $16,344 for a single person.
Bretz said the drivers often serve as their eyes and ears for the homebound, checking on the elderly residents when delivering meals and whether they have food in the refrigerator.
Rossi said volunteer groups may be able to help some but volunteer efforts can only go so far. "Our goal will be to maximum as many meals as we can deliver," he said.