State slashes senior meal funds 60 percent

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/Mary Handley
Delmarva Community Services, Inc. will distribute change jars to raise money to feed local senior citizens.

CAMBRIDGE — Hunger is a constant companion to many local senior citizens — at least it would be, if it weren’t for the efforts of Delmarva Community Services, Inc. (DCS), which feeds about 300 frail elderly every day. But those unwelcome pangs might return, now that the state’s Department of Aging has announced deep, unexpected cuts in funding for MAC Senior Nutrition Services.

“It’s very offensive and it’s going to hurt a lot of people,” said Mary Handley, who manages the DCS Senior Information and Assistance Office, which will also be affected by the cuts. “They’re just telling us now.”

MAC (Maintaining Active Citizens) is the Area Agency on Aging for the four Lower Shore counties of Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester. DCS is the local contractor for those services, operating a Senior Center that features meals, and the information office.

Less for rural poor
Many eat their nutritious and skillfully prepared meals at the center, but most receive them through the Meals on Wheels program. The home-delivered meals are especially important in a rural area such as Dorchester, which has many seniors in fragile health who live in relative isolation.

The Department of Aging this year decided to return to a population-based formula for allocating cash. That means counties such as Montgomery — which is also the richest in the United States — will receive more money, while the rural poor of the Lower Shore will have less.

The formula takes into account the fact that Montgomery County, where Department of Aging Secretary Rona Kramer makes her home, has more poor than Dorchester. But that county also has, Ms. Handley said, 104 food pantries, compared to Dorchester’s three, as well as 3,100 millionaires (Baltimore Business Journal, January 2017).

“The poverty rate for Montgomery is 6.9 percent, but Dorchester’s poverty rate is 15 percent,” Ms. Handley said. “I think Maryland can afford to provide one hot nutritious meal to all qualifying seniors.”

A statement from MAC said the cuts will result in a reduction of more than 15,000 meals for frail elderly on the Lower Eastern Shore. The cuts will create and extend waiting lists for nutrition services, the statement said, adding that workers will also have to be laid off.

“In May, MAC was officially notified that state funds for Senior Nutrition Services would be cut by 46 percent — $113,000 — effective July 1. Other MAC programs have received cuts in state funding, but none as significant as Nutrition Services,” the statement said. “Senior Nutrition Services helps older persons age in place and avoid costly nursing home admission. The $113,000 ‘saved’ is less than the cost of nursing home care for one person for one year.”

‘Who do we cut?’
“There is simply no comparison,” said MAC marketing and communications specialist Cindy Robinson.

Tough decisions loom for DCS and similar agencies on the Lower Shore. “Who do we cut?” Ms. Handley said.

While managers at DCS wrestle with that dilemma, they will explore solutions to help local seniors through this crisis. Staff will ask the community for cash on an emergency basis and will place cash jars around the county; They will ask the local government to advocate at the state level; and they will work politically to change thinking in Annapolis, Ms. Handley said, about the needs of the rural poor.

“It is offensive the Department of Aging is going to make our seniors and those who advocate for them beg for food with coin jars and fund raisers. I believe every tax payer would like their tax dollars to go toward providing a meal for seniors, especially rural seniors living far from family or grocery stores,” Ms. Handley said.

Donation options
Meals for seniors began under the Johnson administration as part of the great society and the war on poverty. That administration believed that in America, every senior should have access to at least one nutritious meal a day and that as a nation we were capable of making that happen.

Seniors came to nutrition sites, now known as senior centers which evolved as not only places to have a meal but commune with others, learn things and grow and contribute. Statistics show nutrition and freedom from isolation have positive health and mental health outcomes.

DCS has small change jars individuals can “check out” for the month of June. Folks can put their loose change in the jars and return to DCS. All money will go to the Dorchester Senior meal program. A letter of acknowledgment will be sent to all donors for their tax-deductible contribution, as DCS is a 501c3 non-profit agency.

Individuals may also make financial contributions by check to Delmarva Community Services, Inc. with meals program in the notes line. Mail to Delmarva Community Services, Inc. 2450 Cambridge Beltway, Cambridge, MD 21613, or call Mary Handley at 443-521-3084 for more information.

To contact MAC, email www.macinc.org or call 410-742-0505.

To learn more about the Department of Aging, visit www.aging.maryland.gov. To contact Secretary Kramer, email rona.kramer@maryland.gov, or call 410-767-1102.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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