BERLIN – Unexpected cuts to a nutrition program are expected to impact thousands of seniors on the lower Eastern Shore.
Last week, MAC Inc. Area Agency on Aging announced state funding for its Senior Nutrition Services program would be cut by $113,000, or 46%, effective July 1.
Initially, the funding cuts will impact 120 to 150 seniors and create extended waiting lists for nutrition services. But the agency noted the cuts would ultimately result in a reduction of more than 15,000 meals for seniors on the lower Eastern Shore.
“Other MAC programs have received cuts in state funding,” a statement reads, “but none as significant as Nutrition Services.”
MAC, which stands for Maintaining Active Citizens, serves seniors in Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties by providing programs and services that preserve health and independence.
In Worcester County, MAC Inc. subcontracts the Worcester County Commission on Aging (WorCOA) to provide certain services.
Rob Hart, executive director of WorCOA, said state funding cuts are expected to reduce the organization’s Meals on Wheels budget by $19,000 in the coming year.
“That’s 4,000 meals annually,” he said.
Hart explained the state is recalculating the way in which it funds aging programs.
“Now it will be based on the population of senior citizens in an area and not the percentage of senior citizens in an area,” he said. “We certainly win out on the percentage of population, but of course the bigger counties like Montgomery and Prince George’s are going to have a larger population of senior citizens.”
Hart estimates 30% of Worcester County’s population is over the age of 60, and he expects that figure to increase by another 10% in the next six years.
As a result of the aging population, WorCOA noted an increasing demand for Meals on Wheels services in Worcester County.
“Meals on Wheels serves over 10,000 meals a year and about 900 meals a month at this time,” Deputy Director John Dorrough said. “That number is increasing.”
For Hart, funding cuts to nutrition programs could mean less opportunities to reach the aging population in Worcester County.
“One of the most important points of the Meals on Wheels program is to touch base with the individual Monday through Friday,” he said. “It’s about the visit as much as it is about the food.”
In one instance, Hart said the agency delivered a meal to an individual only to discover they had fallen.
“Without this service, they wouldn’t have been able to access medical help,” he said.
While WorCOA receives funding from Worcester County, Hart said the agency is now seeking additional funding sources to compensate for the unanticipated cuts.
“Anytime funding formulas are based on population, we lose,” he said.
MAC Inc. explained Senior Nutrition Services help older residents age in place and avoid costly nursing home admissions. The agency noted the $113,000 “saved” is less than the cost of nursing home care for one person for one year.
“The value of MAC services to maintain 120 seniors at home with nutrition services (at a cost of $113,000), as compared to tax dollars (Medicaid) for nursing home care, is a staggering $17,280,000,” a statement reads. “There is simply no comparison.”