The Frederick County Department of Aging will learn tomorrow whether Congress and President Obama’s failure to stop federal spending cuts that went into effect on March 1 will impact the 125 homebound senior citizens who receive free meals on weekdays.
Carolyn True, director of the aging department, said Monday that she will participate in a conference call with state officials to learn how much money will be cut from the county Meals on Wheels program.
“I’m concerned,” True said. “This one is a program people are going to pay attention to.”
True said she will learn how deep the cuts will go after speaking with state officials, and whether they will need to feed fewer seniors.
“We’ll learn what was passed down to the state, and what will be passed down to the local level,” she said.
Of the $85 billion in sequestration cuts to domestic and defense spending nationwide, Maryland will lose $877,000 in funds that provide meals for homebound seniors, according to a report released by the White House last month. The report detailed a list of the spending cuts for every state and Washington, D.C.
As a result of the impending cuts, the nonprofit organization, Friends of Meals on Wheels, is stepping up its efforts to raise money for the county-run program to make up for the lost federal funding.
Gail Wingate, president of the organization that advocates and raises money for the program, met Monday with Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R), Pat Rosensteel, director of Frederick County’s Division of Citizens Services, and True, to discuss the fundraising efforts.
Wingate wanted assurances from Young, Rosensteel and True, that the money her organization raises will go to feed homebound seniors and not toward eliminating a $22,000 deficit projected in current fiscal 2013.
They all agreed at the meeting that the money would go toward the cost of the meals, and also offered to help with the fundraising efforts.
Friends of Meals on Wheels has currently raised $5,000, which has yet to be turned over to the county. They have several fundraisers planned over the next several months.
Donors want their money to pay for food and provide meals, in particular to reduce the number of people on the waiting list to join the program, Wingate said. There are 86 people on the waiting list.
The organization’s bylaws state that the money must go toward the cost of meals, she said.
“We’re saying to people, ‘We’re raising money to feed people,’” Wingate said. “I don’t want to pay a debt. We can hold fundraisers for that later.”
People like the idea that their money goes to feed an individual, Wingate said.
She estimated that it costs $2,500 annually to feed one person, or $10 a day.
“For $2,500 you can feed somebody for a year and take them off the waiting list,” Wingate said.
The total cost of the county’s Meals on Wheels program in fiscal 2013, which ends June 30, is $198,256, $120,000 of which goes to food.
The program’s funding comes in part from federal and state grants for $49,803 in fiscal 2013, and county government, which provides $118,453.
But those numbers could change depending on the sequestration cuts.
“I don’t know what the funding is,” True said.
The total cost of the program in fiscal 2012 was $182,962 — $15,894 less than this year, according to the county budget office.
The average cost of the meals is $50 a week.
They are prepared and provided by the county-run nursing home, Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center in Frederick, the privately owned Homewood at Crumland Farms assisted-living facility in Frederick and the county Work Release Center.
The number of people getting meals has remained at 125 for several years, but the $50-per-week contribution from seniors receiving meals has not, because more seniors are struggling to pay it.
The program runs Monday through Friday, when a hot meal is delivered at midday, along with a cold meal that can be refrigerated and eaten later.
Participants must be homebound due to illness or physical limitations, have no caregiver to assist with shopping and be unable to safely prepare food.
They are asked to give a $50-per-week contribution if they are financially able.
To help eliminate the $22,000 deficit, Meals on Wheels has recently suspended delivery on the 11 holidays recognized by the county government, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is the first time delivery has been suspended since 2000.
Each meal recipient will be given a self-addressed envelope on a monthly basis as a reminder to contribute the $50-per-week it costs to provide the food.
Rosensteel suggested that the funds raised by Friends of Meals on Wheels could reinstate meal delivery on the county holidays.
Young said he will meet with the county attorney to see if he can legally raise funds for the program.
“I want to see if I can fundraise, because Meals on Wheels is a county program,” he said. “If not, I have to fundraise as a private citizen.”
Young said he would like the money raised to eliminate the deficit and knock down the waiting list. He suggested building a database with the names of donors.
“This is a great approach,” Rosensteel said. “People can relate to this.”
Young and Wingate are drafting a letter to send out to potential donors, informing them about the waiting list and the sequestration cuts.
“I believe this is a program people would give on all levels,” Young said. “We know the money goes locally, and to me, it’s a no-brainer.”