2005-12-01 / Front Page

Senior Meals Program Grows, Needs Funding

By Karen Gould

Mackinac County Commissioners suggested they will boost the county’s $10,000 contribution to the Community Action Agency, if possible, when they finalize the county budget next month. The agency needs more funding for its senior nutrition program, which includes Meals on Wheels and lunches served at county senior centers. During their Monday, November 21 budget review meeting, commissioners listened as Donn Riley, senior services director for CAA, explained that 10,000 more meals were served than planned between October 1, 2004 and September 30, 2005, and that the unexpected increase created a $29,000 budget deficit for the program.

“Our budget for nutrition is approximately $281,000” for Mackinac, Chippewa, and Luce counties, said Mr. Riley, and has been relatively stable for the last 20 years.

He said the agency is trying to cover the loss with donations, fundraisers, and additional funding by applying to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“People are living longer and living independently,” Mr. Riley later told The St. Ignace News . He attributed the increase in meals served a higher average life expectancy, which is now approximately 85 years of age, and additional services available to seniors, like in-home care, that make it possible for them to live in their homes longer. He said approximately 24 percent of Mackinac County residents are older than 60, while the state average is just over 12 percent.

He said a new packaging program that allows CAA to freeze meals makes it possible for the agency to get food to rural areas now.

Community Action, he noted, expects to serve the same number of meals in 2006, if not more, and if funding is not available, the agency may have to establish a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program.

“Federal and state funding is not keeping pace with the increasing number of seniors living independently with supportive services,” said Mr. Riley.

The county has budgeted $10,000 a year for senior services and the agency anticipates more than $81,000 in grant money for fiscal year 2006. Sit-down meals, coupled with the Meals on Wheels program, cost more than $110,000 in Mackinac County and served approximately 629 seniors. Each delivered meal for the Meals on Wheels program costs approximately $5.72, Mr. Riley said.

Most of the county commissioners said they felt more money should budgeted for the program.

“This is the first budget we have come across where we would add to it,” noted Commission Chairperson Dawn Nelson.

Mr. Riley said the basic requirement for the Meals on Wheels is that a person must be older than 60 years old and homebound.

“They have to have functional mobility problems,” said Mr. Riley.

County senior centers are in Cedarville, Curtis, Engadine, and St. Ignace and seniors attending lunches are asked for a donation of $2.50.

During the county budget review last week, three other county service agencies made budget requests that contained no funding changes as commissioners move toward the end of their 2006 budget preparation process.

Jeff Hagan from Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Development, Sam Harma from Hiawatha Behavioral Health, and Ken DesArmo from Michigan Department of Human Services met with commissioners.

Mr. DesArmo brought along the three of his board members from Mackinac County, Helen Johnson, Louie Litzner, and Phil Ruegg, to meet with commissioners.

“Your local board is probably one of the best boards that I’ve ever had,” said Mr. DesArmo. “They are very compassionate, but they don’t waste money, either, and that’s probably the perfect combination you want in a board.”

The Human Services agency now receives $9,000 from the county. It serves poor people and administers the food stamps program for 253 families in the county.

“Contrary to public perception, the families we have on food stamps are all basically working families,” said Mr. DesArmo. “They are making so little amount of money that they are eligible for food stamps. Most of these families are working full time, but they are making minimum wage and can’t make enough to get by.”

The agency also assists seniors to stay in their home by providing help with daily needs like house cleaning, putting up storm windows, and assisting with shopping. Nursing care in a nursing care facility costs about $4,500 a month, but when seniors are able to receive nursing care at home, it costs the agency approximately $800 a month.

Mr. DesArmo provided commissioners with an example of a family of three that receives assistance. Based on rent of $350, the family would receive $794, he said.

“Mackinac County people are so community-oriented and there is such a strong sense of caring, I’ve never been worried about anybody going without in this community,” said Mr. DesArmo.

He told commissioners the Human Services agency, which also is supported by tax dollars, is “basically broke.” He added, “It’s not good in the State of Michigan.”

The agency administers financial assistance and social service programs, including food stamps, children’s protective services, child care services, medical assistance, state emergency relief, and foster care.

Mackinac County contributes $8,000 to the EUP Regional Planning and Development, which comprises part of a 25-percent local fund match for a federal Economic Development Administration grant. The grant allows the region to be an economic development district. The funding also covers any planning or zoning projects for any township or municipality in the county, said Mr. Hagan. Last year, the agency worked with Portage Township to update its land use plan.

The multi-county agency is a resource that assists county governments with support and staff for projects including economic and community development, grant writing, surveys, recreation planning, and land use planning.

Mr. Harma from Hiawatha Behavioral Health told commissioners the $45,900 in funding they provide the agency is the amount of funding given in 1997 as frozen funds, which was the rule established when the agency was formed that year. That amount could be reduced, if state funding is reduced, said Mr. Harma.

“Counties are responsible for 10 percent of the net cost of services provided by the department to their residents, either directly or by contract,” said Mr. Harma.

Last year, $1,659,000 was spent in Mackinac County. He noted 254 child cases were handled last year. Hiawatha Behavioral Health provides mental health services to residents in Mackinac, Schoolcraft, and Chippewa counties.

The agency’s total budget for 2006 is $15,653,000, with 73 percent coming from Medicaid, 16 percent from the state’s general fund, and 11 percent in matching funds from counties, Mr. Harma said.

Commissioners next meet Thursday, December 1, at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ room in the county’s annex building.

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