Demand for Meals on Wheels program continues to climb
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Feeding senior citizens and funding the Meals on Wheels program were focal points for the Crawford County Commission on Aging and Senior Center for its last fiscal year.
Alice Snyder, the director of the Commission on Aging and Senior Center, gave an overview of the agency’s annual report to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, Jan. 12.
Over the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2015 and ended on Sept. 30, 2016, the Commission on Aging and Senior served 35 percent of the senior citizens in Crawford County though its programs and services. That equates to 1,397 senior citizens age 60 and above.
The largest demand for services was home-delivered meals served through the Meals on Wheels program. A total of 31,514 meals were delivered by senior center volunteers, up from 26,809 in the previous year.
Snyder said grants fund the Meals on Wheels program. But since the demand grew so much, $78,000 in millage funds the county collects to support the agency was used to supplement the program.
“We are kind of at a threshold right now where if it continues to climb, we’re going to have trouble supporting that,” Snyder said. “We’re going to have to dump more millage money into it or we we’re going to have to create a waiting list for meals, which we’ve never done.”
Nationally, Snyder said the Meals on Wheels program will continue growing due to the increase in the aging population.
Along with the Alpena Senior Center, Snyder noted the Meals on Wheels program serving Crawford County residents still delivers nine meals per week. Other agencies have cut back to four to six meals.
By comparison, congregate meals served at the senior center, which include lunch and dinner and special-themed monthly meals, held steady at 11,367 meals.
Snyder said that senior center agencies nationwide are seeing a drop in participation at congregate meals.
“The national trend for congregate meals is on a downward slope,” Snyder said. “The Baby Boomers are not into coming to a meal site to eat. They want to go out to a restaurant.”
Snyder noted that grant funding for the Meals on Wheels program and the congregate meals comes from two different sources. Congregate meals funds, however, can be budgeted to supplement the Meals on Wheels program. No millage funds have been spent on the congregate meal program.
Crawford County Commissioner Rick Anderson said he has heard from other county officials who have been forced to cut back on the number of meals delivered. He said there may come a point in time where local officials need to decide which meal programs need the most support based on the demand.
“If we are going to continue the Meals on Wheels program, which is paramount because these people need meals to be prepared, my consideration as a commissioner is to look at the dinner and luncheon deal and make a decision on one or another,” Anderson said.
In line with the need to provide food to senior citizens, Snyder said that 616 boxes of food were delivered to the homes of Crawford County senior citizens through the Northeast Community Service Agency’s food commodity program. Snyder noted that some senior citizens don’t have the transportation to pick up the boxes of food that are available or struggle with lifting and moving the boxes.
A total of 298 hours were spent counseling 225 seniors regarding their Medicaid, Medicare, and other insurance benefits.
Karl Schreiner, who retired as the Commission on Aging’s advocacy and resource manager last year, has continued the counseling in a volunteer capacity. He, along with Tina Foster and Marc Dedenbach, saved senior citizens $95,000 in insurance costs last year, and have saved them $316,000 so far in 2017.
“No one person can do that alone, believe me,” said Schreiner, who is also the vice chairman for the Commission on Aging and Senior Center’s Board of Directors. “Alice’s support of getting this done has been fantastic.”
Snyder noted that insurance provisions for senior citizens change so fast that they can’t assume that the plans will work for them year to year.
A total of 6,787 in-home service hours were provided to 140 individuals in the last year. Fifty-five percent of that time was for help with homemaking, 34 percent of the hours was devoted to respite care, filling in for a spouse or relative caring for loved one with a chronic or acute illness. The remaining 11 percent of the hours were devoted to providing personal care for senior citizens.
Snyder said the agency is not looking to take on more individuals for its homemaking program.
“Once we take somebody on, we have to provide the service until they leave the program,” she said. “The only option we have is to create a waiting list, which we have avoided.”
Snyder said that respite care will also be cut back since the funding from the State of Michigan through the Tobacco Settlement agreement earmarked for respite services ended.
“We knew three years ago that was a three-year pot of money,” Snyder said.
Snyder said the agency has been able to hold the cost of providing in-home services steady from year to year despite outside economic factors that impact its budget.
“That’s hard to do with health insurance costs, and as minimum wage continues to go up,” she said.
Snyder praised Crawford County citizens for supporting a millage renewal as well as a millage increase on the Aug. 2 ballot. The support from local taxpayers means the Commission on Aging is bringing in $534,558 for the next year compared to the $393,100 from the previous millage levy.
Snyder said she is keeping a watchful eye on federal officials, since 64 percent of the Commission Aging’s grant fund comes from the federal government.
“If changes occur at the federal level, that’s the bulk of our grant money,” she said.
Snyder said client and participant donations reached a 10-year high last year, and $28,000 was brought in to support services from private donations.
Finally, Snyder said the Commission on Aging Board in December approved moving $45,442 from its building fund into its contingency fund in order to have the funds on hand to cover three months of operating costs. The building fund is now at $90,300.