Officials hopeful on solving Meals On Wheels funding

Officials are scrambling to find ways to cover the loss of $113,000 in state funds to the Meals On Wheels program, which delivers food to housebound senior citizens in Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. 

The cuts are the result of a change in the formula used to award the money for the senior nutrition program, and will affect as many as 900 elderly residents who depend on Meals On Wheels as well as lunches served at local senior centers.

Pattie Tingle, Executive Director of MAC Inc., the area’s agency on aging, said officials in all four counties, as well as members of the Eastern Shore delegation, are actively looking for solutions.

“Everyone’s agreed to take a look at this,” she said. “There’s nothing concrete yet.”

The changes to the state funding formula date back to 2016, just prior to Tingle’s arrival at MAC. At the time, the state provided supplemental funds over the next few years to give MAC and other agencies time to adjust their budgets, Delegate Carl Anderton said during a June 18 meeting of the Wicomico County Council.

“That appears not to have happened,” Anderton said.

Tingle said she and her counterparts in other parts of the state were taken by surprise when they found out the supplemental funding ended in May.

“It came as a surprise across Maryland,” she said. “No one can find anything that has a sunset clause.”

Now the agency has a window of four to five months in which it must make up the difference in funds before it will be forced to make cuts to the meal program and staff, Tingle said.

Anderton said he and other local legislators are working with the state to find a way to make up some of the lost funds.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure that no one is short-changed when it comes to Meals On Wheels,” he told County Council members.

A few weeks ago, Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver asked the County Council to approve funds from the county’s contingency account to cover the gap. A week later, the council issued a press release that outlined its concerns.

First, the council said it should work to restore state funding of the program. Second, council members said Wicomico shouldn’t bear the total cost since the program covers four counties.

“Such substantive funding, as proposed, would have Wicomico citizens subsidizing a program in support of all four counties and we don’t think that is an equitable solution,” the council said in the news release.

Council members, who have delayed a vote, estimated Wicomico’s obligation would be $40,000, considerably less than the total shortfall amount.

In neighboring Somerset, County Commissioners have agreed to fund $34,372 for the senior nutrition program to help make up the shortfall, according to the minutes of the May 28 meeting.

Tingle said she is still waiting to hear from Dorchester and Worcester counties.

Without the funding, some housebound seniors would see a reduction or even elimination of meals delivered to their homes. While good nutrition is important, Tingle stressed that the Meals On Wheels program is often the only time some people have human contact.

Delivery people for the program sometimes will report they have found someone ill or injured, which allows them to get help.

“Having that face-to-face connection is immeasurable,” she said.

MAC also offers lunches at senior centers in all four counties which provide an opportunity for staff to check up with elderly residents about their health and other concerns, Tingle said.

During 2018, MAC served 114,398 meals to 1,307 seniors through Meals On Wheels and its lunch program, she said.

Tingle said the community has stepped up with donations for the program once word got out about the funding cut. She also is looking for grants and other funding sources to help provide a long-term solution.

“We’re not leaving any stone unturned,” she said.

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