320 Omaha seniors could lose Meals on Wheels
January 3rd, 2011
Omaha, NE – An estimated 320 Omaha seniors may lose their daily Meals on Wheels nutrition program and other services that help them live independently in their own homes in 2011.
On a cold day in December, after a noon lunch of fish, green beans and mashed potatoes, about a dozen seniors played a few rounds of bingo at a senior center in Omaha. Elaine Roberts conducted the game, calling out numbers amid the chatter of players scrolling through their bingo cards, talking and laughing.
Programs like this, where seniors are served daily meals, as well as transportation services and adult day care, that fall under a state-funded Title 20 social services block grant may be eliminated during the next legislative session, which begins January 5th. It’s one option out of several budget-cutting proposals put forward by the Health and Human Service Committee, as legislators try to close a projected budget shortfall of close to $1 billion. The cut would save the state almost $6 million.
Jeff Reinhart, Director of Public Affairs for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, said while people are aware of the impending mass retirement of the baby boomer generation, but, he said, “It starts to really hit home… it becomes more real when you start seeing that the need for a particular services (is) growing and the dollars may not be there to meet those needs.”
Reinhart said, in Omaha alone, the Meals on Wheels program serves about 800 hundred people every day, of which 40% receive Title 20 grants. That means about 320 seniors in Omaha would be affected by this possible cut. Reinhart said he hopes it doesn’t happen, but if it does, eliminating positions will be the first place the department will look for savings.
“Is there someone else that can do someone else’s job? We have definitely eliminated positions over the years because of funding cuts. Hope it doesn’t come to that, but that’s probably the first thing we’re going to look at.”
Messages left for the 2010 Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, State Senator Tim Gay, as well as the likely future Chair, State Senator Kathy Campbell were not returned. The Department of Health and Human Services submitted its own budget-cutting ideas in September, which also included eliminating the Meals on Wheels program. All ideas will be on the table and debated when the Legislature reconvenes January 5th.