Budget cuts mean fewer hot meals for seniors
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Monday, October 05, 2009
10/05/09 at 4:15 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY — Budget cuts approved last week by the Commission for Human Services will result in fewer seniors getting a hot meal.
The Commission for Human Services on Tuesday shaved $14.6 million off its budget in response to declining state revenue. All state agencies have been told to cut their budgets.
The agency's Aging Services Division, which includes the senior nutrition program, took the largest hit at $7.4 million.
Funds are passed down to 11 area agencies on aging to pay for senior nutrition centers and home-delivered meals to seniors. Other services include an ombudsman and referral services.
"It is going to impact the number of older adults served in Tulsa, Creek and Osage counties through meals and other services, such as caregiver assistance," said Clark Miller, the director of the Tulsa Area Agency on Aging.
The cut to his budget will be $719,000, or nearly 26 percent, Miller said.
Those who receive home-delivered meals tend to be frail and can be somewhat isolated, he said.
"The home-delivered meals are a key component of their daily nutrition," he said. "We want to keep people healthy and independent in their own home as long as we can. This money will cut back the number of people we can assist."
Weldon Taylor, 82, gets a meal delivered to his Tulsa home five days a week.
"I would kind of see a hard time," Taylor said of the service being discontinued or cut back. "I would miss it so."
Dale Elliott, 81, of Heavener also gets home-delivered meals. The former school superintendent and mayor said the meals are well-balanced and prepared by a dietitian.
"I would get by, but we have a number of people where that meal is the only meal they have that is anywhere close to adequate," Elliott said.
Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, who is running for lieutenant governor, thinks a special legislative session should be called to address the problem.
"It is a symptom of what is taking place across state agencies," Corn said. "This is one portion of the puzzle that has to be fixed."
Don Hudman, the executive director of the Areawide Agency on Aging that serves Oklahoma, Cleveland, Logan and Canadian counties, said senior nutrition sites that have low attendance most likely will be targeted for closure.
"To say what has happened is foolish is a huge and gross understatement," Hudman said. "It is my belief that the Legislature knew the situation and what it was going to be like and chose, in spite of that, to make tax cuts, which only hurt the populations we serve."
Howard Hendrick, the director of the Department of Human Services, said the agency tried to cut areas where federal matching dollars would not be affected.
The increasing cost of health care has really affected the department's budget, he said.
Hendrick called the cuts devastating. He is concerned that the elimination of some meals would hurt the social lives of seniors, he said.
In the long run, it could increase costs associated with a program designed to keep seniors in their homes instead of putting them in nursing homes, he said.
Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465