Cuts to Meals On Wheels would hurt region’s seniors

Officials at the Maintaining Active Citizens, known as MAC Inc., are asking legislators for help after the Maryland Department on Aging cut funding for meals for senior citizens — both Meals on Wheels and entrees served free of charge at senior centers.

MAC officials learned this month state funds for Senior Nutrition Services would be cut by 46 percent, or $113,000, effective July 1, impacting 120 to 150 people by a reduction of 15,000 meals throughout the year.

Cuts are the result of the Maryland portion of funding for meals being reallocated according to county population statistics. Because of the new formula, money is being sent to more urban areas, explained MAC Executive Director Patti Tingle.

“When they use a formula that says the 60-plus population they are using population numbers to control the funding and they are saying there has been a shift in population numbers. They are saying seniors aren’t living in the city at the rate they once were, based on the American Community Survey,” Tingle said.

On a typical week, 2,500 meals are cooked at MAC on Progress Circle in Salisbury and at other senior centers in Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester counties that have kitchens, and served or delivered to senior citizens living in those counties.

The average 600-calorie meal includes an entrée and three servings of fruit and vegetables, can be warmed in a microwave oven and is served with milk.

For those who live a considerable distance away, frozen meals are delivered, explained Karla Beardsley, nutrition program director at MAC.

“We’re looking at a reduction in meals but we don’t know exactly where at this point,” Tingle said.

“It all came at the 11th hour. Typically we get a change like this in January or February, so we can get our legislators to help us find funding or we can get it into our planning.

“This is kind of last minute for a budget year that will start July 1. We’re not sure what our action is going to be, if we’re going to reduce the number of meals we’re going to serve, if we’re going to reduce the number of seniors we’re serving, if we are looking at layoffs — we just don’t know right now,” she said.

“Nutritionally, at home, seniors are more apt to be sure their pets or their family members are fed before themselves, so this might be the only meal they get. For those homebound, I got a letter from a lady who is 99 years old. She was so thankful to have those meals, because she was burning herself when she was making her own meals,” Tingle said.

“We have started talking to our legislators so they will carry the message to the governor to see what they can find out. We are also talking to our sister counties, to see if we can replicate any ideas they have. We just finished some fund-raising around our meals program. Fund-raising is in the planning,” she added.

Eleven people are employed in the meals division of MAC, including the dietician, cook, staff members and drivers.

Tingle said the value of MAC services to maintain 120 seniors at home with nutrition services, at the cost of $113,000, compared to tax dollars paid by Medicaid for nursing home care, is $17.3 million.

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