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September 27th, 2016

Guest Opinion: Funding Shortage for Meals on Wheels in Central Vermont—What Happens to Hungry Seniors?

By Beth Stern, Executive Director, CVCOA and
Kathy Paquet, Nutrition and Wellness Director, CVCOA

The meals on wheels program for seniors has been around for over 50 years, and in central Vermont, our senior centers and meal sites produce over 200,000 meals per year, with federal funding contributed by Central Vermont Council on Aging (CVCOA). But did you know that the amount of federal funds to pay for the meals program is frozen at 2004 levels? That means that during the last decade, while the senior population rose significantly, the money for meals did not keep up.

This stagnant funding does not take the aging population into account. In 2015, senior centers produced 14,000 more meals than CVCOA could pay them for. This shifts the burden onto local senior meal sites to try to make up the difference through fundraising efforts or make the tough choice to start a waiting list for meals. At least one central Vermont meal site has started a waiting list and there is talk of using more stringent screening tools to more strictly prioritize seniors who want meals. But how do we weed out meals recipients who are all struggling?

Nutrition has a huge impact on the health of our seniors, our healthcare system and our economy. A typical meals on wheels client is a woman in her mid to late 70s who lives alone and is low income. She probably receives five health home delivered meals per week. To cover meals the rest of the time, she will stretch the meal to last several days, eat cheap snacks, or go without. Seniors who regularly eat healthy food are less likely to fall, succumb to chronic illness, and are more likely to be able to live independently. Hospitals often discharge seniors with meals on wheels as part of their discharge plans. If these meals are not available, an expensive readmission to the hospital or long term care facility is much more likely.

As recently pointed out by Senator Bernie Sanders on the anniversary and reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, “Investing in senior nutrition programs is not only the moral thing to do, it is the financially smart thing to do. Proper nutrition can keep people out of long-term care and emergency rooms. Meal delivery is also a good opportunity for visiting with an isolated senior who might otherwise go days without seeing another person.”

Central Vermont Council on Aging and the other area agencies on aging work hard to encourage private donations for meals on wheels. But the current resources are not enough to meet the very basic nutritional needs of our growing senior population.

What can you do? Let’s start talking about the needs of seniors—after all, we are all growing older. Let your friends, family members, neighbors, and church know about the funding shortages for senior meals. Make a donation to your local senior meals site or to your area agency on aging for the nutrition program. Tell your congressional delegation as well as your Vermont state representatives that senior meals need to be a funding priority. Let’s demand that seniors receive the services and supports they need and deserve, including for healthy aging programs such as meals on wheels.

The Central Vermont Council on Aging is a not-for-profit organization that supports elders in leading healthy, independent, meaningful and dignified lives in their homes and communities in 54 Central Vermont towns. For a list of Meals on Wheels sites in Central Vermont, go to www.cvcoa.org/meals-on-wheels

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