Cuts pinch Michigan meals programsPublished 9:43pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Michigan’s seniors, especially the most frail, may be among the first to feel the effects of the gridlock in Washington that led to across-the-board budget cuts.
A statewide hit of about $2.4 million, among other things, means fewer free and low-cost meals throughout the state — both in home-delivered lunches and those served at seniors centers, recreation sites and senior housing complexes.
In Macomb County, its 22 meal sites have cut Friday’s lunch.
Last week, Jo Anne Murray ate bread and butter in her apartment instead.
In fact, the Elizabeth Lee Doles Manor in Clinton Township has reduced its 40 served and brown bag lunches per month to 16 —meals that provide nutrition for low-income seniors, said site supervisor Kathy Hernandez.
“I got stopped by a police officer last week — and this upset me so much — he found some of the residents Dumpster diving,” Hernandez said.
With Social Security and $122 a month in food stamps, Murray, a 66-year-old retired nurse, said there was nothing but bread and butter left in her refrigerator.
“It’s not pleasant, it really isn’t — going hungry,” she said. Just as bad, she said: “You miss seeing your friends.”
n The Southfield-based Area Agency on Aging, covering six southeastern Michigan counties, has reduced respite care by 550 hours and cut 86,000 senior meals to help close an estimated $700,000 gap.
n The Muskegon-based Senior Resources of West Michigan has trimmed funds used to pay for personal emergency response systems for seniors — the alarms that summon emergency crews and loved ones during a crisis.
The $25 to $35 a month monitoring fee can no longer be covered by an small agency that has had to take $78,000 in estimated cuts, said agency CEO Pam Curtis.
n Throughout Michigan, agencies have slashed services by helpers who clean homes, help prepare meals and run errands for seniors to help them remain in their own homes, said Mary Ablan, director of executive director of Michigan’s Area Agencies on Aging Association.
The sequestration cuts put in place by Washington in March included an estimated $77.4 million in the Older Americans Act — the lifeblood funding to the nation’s network of 629 area agencies on aging and their more than 20,000 providers of senior meals, transportation to medical appointments, home help and respite care.
Senior advocates across the U.S., in fact, are being forced to cut programs that save money in the long run, said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
“If they’re not getting meals, and they’re not getting rides to the pharmacy, and not getting rides to the doctors, these are the people who are going to end up in a nursing home or in hospital,” she said.
Whatever they’ve had to cut, several agency heads in Michigan said they are trying to protect home-delivered meals — the service for perhaps the most fragile and isolated of seniors.
“Especially in rural areas, the issue is that the Meals on Wheels is not just about a meal. It’s about a human being checking in on another at least once a day,” Ablan said.
out of options
With nowhere else to cut, the Senior Alliance, for example, will stop delivering meals to 30 of its more than 2,000 clients in October. Those initial cuts will sharpen quickly as sequestration continues to shrink the federal funding, said Bob Brown, agency director.
It’s not just frustrating; it’s dangerous, he said.
For some seniors, their only nutrition comes through mobile meals, he said: “That’s where we’re at. They’re going to starve our most vulnerable people. It’s harsh, yes. Sequestration is harsh.”
Carole Huff is clear: The services provided through the Older Americans Act may have saved her life.
A former cross-country truck driver, a bureaucratic snafu earlier this year made it unclear whether she had health insurance.
Huff’s long list of health issues require more than a dozen medications.
Walking was nearly impossible and she had been unable to run a vacuum or wash linens for weeks. Her apartment got dirtier; her bills bigger. Medicine was running low.
At 66, she said she considered suicide: “I couldn’t see my way out.”
Today, a home help aide provided through the agency helps her clean, make meals, even walk Pumpkin, the dog. Her services are safe for now, she has been told.
But there’s no more to go around to new clients.
Without the services, Huff said, “I don’t know where I’d be.”
A budget squeeze
The budget squeeze isn’t limited to older Americans.
Bonnie Bitoff, 59, is taking care of her mother in the family’s Farmington Hills home.
It’s exhausting work that begins in the morning when Bitoff helps Alice Fritz, 90, from bed and through the excruciatingly slow few steps to the toilet. It’s a 20-minute ordeal followed by dressing and feeding.
Her mother has dementia and is nearly deaf.
A few times a year, Fritz was sent to a senior living complex so Bitoff could take a break and refuel. It was partly funded though federal dollars.
“It really really helped me personally, but it helped mom, too,” Bitoff said.
This month, the Area Agency on Aging, 1-B froze the program. Bitoff has called around, but out-of-pocket costs for such care top $150 a week, she said.
Without respite, caregivers risk burnout, said Joe Hehir, the agency’s chief financial officer.
“It’s a straightforward simple argument” for providing respite care services,” he said.
“There’s substantial savings, in addition to having a much happier individual.”
— Robin Erb
Deroit Free Press