Sequester forces meal cuts at senior centers

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Local senior centers are scaling back meals to the elderly.

Federal spending cuts forced the change, which will leave some seniors citizens without the food they've received for years.

Seventy-four-year-old Harold Hess has been coming to the Seymour Senior Citizens Center since his wife died ten years ago. He's there at noon nearly every day for fellowship and a nutritious meal.

"I'm here every day that they're open. It's important to me," Hess said.

For decades, it's been important to hundreds of seniors in need. Five days a week, in a five-county region in south central Indiana, meals were served or delivered free of charge.

That all changed Monday.

Federal spending cuts from the sequester have forced cuts to the senior meal program. Menus are now crossed off the calendar hanging on the wall.

Now, instead of five days, lunch will be served only three days a week - on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Carol Gee, the senior meal site director in Seymour, says they're painful cuts affecting people's most basic needs.

"It's important to these people. There are people that will be hungry if we don't take food to them," Gee explained.

"I don't know what they're gonna do...after Wednesday," Hess said.

The cuts also affect deliveries to homebound seniors. They'll still get the same number of meals, but instead of one hot meal delivered every day, they'll get a few frozen meals and therefore fewer visits per week.

Program leaders say those visits are just as important as the food itself.

"There's now two days nobody will be checking on these people," Gee said. "You know, sometimes people fall and we had a gentleman the other day who had fallen and we had to call 911 and get medical help for him."

The meal program in south central Indiana is facing a projected 10 percent shortfall, which translates to about $60,000 dollars and 25,000 meals taken away.

Cuts are expected in similar senior programs all across the state.

"For a lot of our clients, that's the best meal they get every day, so it's going to have a significant impact," said Mark Lindenlaub, executive director of Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana.

The impact on our oldest Hoosiers is similar to those facing our youngest. Also on Monday, federal spending cuts took effect at local Head Start classes, where some students in need had to leave preschool because of lack of federal funding.

"That's where most of the cuts seem to end up and somehow that doesn't seem quite fair," Gee said.

In Seymour, organizers hope church groups fill the void and provide seniors with meals that are now missing from the menu. Program leaders say the need for these meals is great.

There's a waiting list of more than 100 people in south-central Indiana.

A recent survey showed 91% of homebound seniors say they wouldn't be able to live at home without meal delivery and those visits from the delivery drivers.