How Sequestration Is Devastating Programs That Aid Senior Citizens

Last week, ThinkProgress spoke to directors of Meals on Wheels programs across the country, and they detailed how sequestration is cutting meal delivery and on-site meal services to needy seniors who may now have to go hungry. Since then, stories about sequestration’s harmful cuts to seniors have continued to pour in from across the country. The stories from Florida and Maine have been particularly wrenching:

• Throughout Florida, meal services for seniors have been cut. In the Orlando area, five senior meal sites are closing, another 20 seniors are losing their home support services, and other seniors will lose their transportation services, including help getting to medical appointments. Similarly, Aging Matters in Brevard had to close two of its lunch sites. In Ocala, Marion Senior Services will serve 6,000 fewer meals in 2013. Meanwhile, Holly Hill, Ormand Beach and six other locations from Deland to New Smyrna Beach had to cut its on-site meals from 5 days a week to 4 days a week while the waiting list for home-delivered meals is at 2,356 and growing. These may just be numbers to some, but not to the seniors who depend on the meals. Sometimes, these meals are seniors’ “only hot meal of the day.”

• The same stories are playing out in Maine. In central Maine, Spectrum Generations has had to cut its meal delivery service to just once a week, while Eastern Agency on Aging in Bangor had to furlough its employees once a week. “It is having a tremendous impact on people who need services…These are services that help to keep people — the elderly and the disabled — living in their homes and in their communities rather than living in institutions, which are much more expensive,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Meanwhile, in midcoast Maine, the Meals on Wheels program is facing funding shortfalls that may impact its on-site meal service program.

But losing crucial nutrition support services is not the only way sequestration is hurting seniors. It is also robbing $75 million from Aging and Disability Services programs. These include programs that protect vulnerable adults from elder abuse, that support services for people experiencing Alzheimer’s disease, and that provide home and community-based services that allow seniors to live at home for as long as possible. These drastic cuts are funneled down to the local level in various forms, from funding cuts to senior centers in Missouri to layoffs at a hospice in Kentucky.

In total, sequestration is cutting more than $230 million to four critical programs that support seniors. It cuts $117 million from Social Services Block Grants, which fund Meals on Wheels and other important initiatives, $75 million from Aging and Disability Services programs, $23 million from Community Service Employment for Older Americans programs, and $19 million from Housing for Elderly programs. But while Congress rushed to stop flight delays right before they flew home for recess, they have done nothing to ease the pain of these cuts on seniors.

We’ve laid out before some revenue options that can help ease the sequester. Many have been suggested in the president’s budget, including the elimination of the special tax break for derivatives traders that would yield $2.4 billion — well more than what is needed to stop sequestration’s harmful impacts on seniors. Ending subsidies for corporate jet owners and tax breaks for golf courses would get us halfway there. And so we ask this question again: what, exactly, are Congress’ priorities?

Our guest blogger is Anna Chu, Policy Director for the ThinkProgress War Room at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.