After millions of dollars were initially cut from the state’s 2013 fiscal year budget in the last week of legislative session, senior centers statewide were looking at a tough road ahead with nearly $1 million slashed from their senior services nutrition budget.
According to Bill Morrison, the state’s Commissioner of Senior Services, after the budget was cut during the regular session, a special session was called where a large portion of the cut was restored.
“We won’t be out of the woods yet until September,” Morrison said. “On paper it’s restored, but it all hinges on the people that get out there and vote.
“If not I will have to send out some letters that aren’t going to be good. Some centers will be closed.”
Randall H. Frost is the director of the Area Agency on Aging with the East Alabama Regional Planning & Development Commission that provides services to senior citizen centers in Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Etowah, Randolph, Talladega, and Tallapoosa counties.
Frost believes that a $1 million cut to the senior services nutrition budget would not only be devastating for local centers, but would deeply impact their ability to provide nutritious meals to seniors who are homebound.
“The original budget that was passed for senior services was about $1 million short for the nutrition program,” Frost said. “You’re probably talking around at least half a million meals conservatively.”
The current general fund budget that includes the $4 million restoration could start Oct. 1 and end Sept. 30, 2013 as a result of a constitutional amendment, depending on the results of the special election that will be held Sept. 18.
“We have no way of knowing based on the other issues involved in that constitutional amendment whether it will be passed or not; it involves funding for the Department of Corrections and children services,” Frost said.
“It’s a pretty complex bill. Now we wait until the election and if it does not pass we are still $1 million short.”
If the amendment does not pass, Gov. Robert Bentley will have to call another special session to find a way to generate additional funding.
“If not, we have to budget for the reduced number of meals,” Frost said.
Some local governments have been good about providing support for their senior centers through local funding, often supplementing the senior services budget shortfalls of the last few years.
“I wasn’t panicking yet,” said Childersburg Senior Center Director Vickie Moody. “Right now it’s just a wait-and-see.”
Moody and her staff serve 65 meals everyday. Thirty-seven of those meals are served to seniors at the center and 28 are delivered to homebound seniors.
“We’re very blessed that the city of Childersburg has been very good to the senior center,” she said. “So far when we have received cuts the city has helped us with a couple of meals.”
Moody said that if the budget ends up being cut $1 million, they will have to end up leaning on the city a bit more.
Many seniors centers throughout the area have kept their noses above water due to local support, but some are not so fortunate.
“There’s a point in time when they can no longer do it and have hard budgets to consider so that’s our fear here,” Frost said. “It’s just kind of a domino affect.”
With cuts across the board to the department of corrections and child services, senior services are just one of many state programs wrestling for more breathing room
“We are in this era of baby boomers where the demand for these services are going up,” Frost said.
“About 10,000 people a day are turning 60 in America so that compounds the fact that we have decreased funding in that area where we should have increased funding. People are living longer but unfortunately all are not living healthy lives as they age.”
Alabama baby boomers have not taken the cuts laying down.
Seniors from the Munford Senior Center joined up with others from around the state on May 8 for a rally in Montgomery.
“Another group went on the 10th of May and we sent out postcards to our representatives and we had passed out the senior buttons and we hoped it wouldn’t be cut that much,” said Judy Moon, director of the Munford Senior Center.
“We knew we would be cut some but we did not know how much.”
Morrison says that as the state’s Commissioner of Senior Services his No. 1 priority is to make sure seniors are receiving the services they need to live healthy lives.
“We’re already ranked six in the country of states that have seniors who go without food,” Morrison said.
“The governor has directed me as the commissioner to do everything I can do to make sure to not cut any seniors in the state. We’re taking all the hits we can to make sure we can provide these services.
“I’m going around the state and telling seniors, explaining how if we can’t get this cost amendment passed in September it could deepen.”
Frost says that meals will continue to be a priority, even if they must use operating funds to supplement potential budget cuts.
“There’s a point in time where even if we had to give operating funds to meals we would still have to cut meals and we have had to head down that road for the past three years,” Frost said.
If operating costs are used to supplement meals, the closure and consolidation of senior centers in smaller rural areas could be a major possibility in order to preserve the funding for operating costs.
“That’s what we don’t want to see happen,” Frost said. “Our biggest concern is the centers that don’t have a lot of local revenue coming in, and in rural areas where there is a high percentage of low-income seniors.
“Our job is to be advocates for seniors and funding is certainly a big part of advocacy.”
Contact Aziza Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.