March 30, 2013

Federal cuts limit Meals on Wheels program, forcing waiting list

Visits will be cut from 2 per day to 1 under sequestration hit

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Across-the-board sequestration cuts to federal programs have left the Meals on Wheels program unable to deliver meals to some area seniors, leaving them struggling to feed themselves.

click image to enlarge

Seton Village resident Marie Rouleau, left, and personal support specialist Zandra Luce work in the kitchen preparing a meal on Monday. Rouleau is on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program.

Staff photo by David Leaming

WAITING LISTS

Administrator Debra Silva said the Meals on Wheels program's waiting list has been growing since it was begun just a few weeks ago, and that she expects it to continue to grow. Here's a summary of how many are waiting in each location.

Muskie Center, Waterville: 14

Cohen Center, Hallowell: 9

Somerset Center, Skowhegan: 2

Program administrators have responded to the budget reduction by creating a waiting list for seniors in need and reducing the number of visits to the people it does serve. When the sequester took effect on March 1, federal programs were forced to cut $85 billion from their annual budgets.

Meals on Wheels is one of several programs funded under the Older Americans Act, which was included in the sequester cuts, according to Debra Silva, a vice president at Spectrum Generations, central Maine's agency on aging.

Cuts to the Older Americans Act have a disproportionate effect in Maine, which in 2010 had the third-highest percentage of seniors in the nation, at 15.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Silva said Spectrum lost $106,000, or 5 percent, of its budget because of sequestration. Because the cuts were retroactive to the beginning of the year, she said, the actual effect is 9 percent of the program's services.

In response, Spectrum has reduced its offerings, which include community dining at Waterville's Muskie Center and support services for family caregivers. It also provides educational outreach on health insurance, heating costs and fraud. Wellness classes, which teach seniors things such as how to manage chronic diseases, also are being reduced.

The loss of services has been apparent in the Meals on Wheels program. For the past 40 years, the program has delivered meals to seniors in need twice a week. Each volunteer visit includes a hot meal and one or two frozen meals, so that a senior winds up with five meals per week. The Muskie Center delivers about 200 meals a day to seniors.

In her 16 years at the Muskie Center, Silva said, the Meals on Wheels program never has had to turn people away because it couldn't afford to feed them.

All that changed March 1, when the program began putting seniors on a waiting list for services.

The change came at a bad time for Marie Rouleau, 84, a Waterville resident who said she has a hard time feeding herself, now that her neck is broken.

"I live alone," said Rouleau, who has never married. "I don't have any family."

Despite the soft neck brace that she wears, her body still moves well. She can get up and get around without any problems, but the slightest movement hurts. While she was speaking from a chair in her home on Patricia Terrace, with her 6-year-old cocker spaniel snoring loudly in the corner, she often raised her hand to her neck, trying to alleviate the pain.

Rouleau always has been an independent, active woman.

In her younger days, she played guitar and yodeled in a country western band at the local granges and the Waterville Opera House.

When she was 19, her family bought property on Messalonskee Lake. She remembers long hours of pounding nails and sawing wood as she and her father built a cottage there. For 27 years, she worked at the C.F. Hathaway shirt factory, where she prided herself on learning how to fix the machines.

"We had a mechanic, and every time he came in to fix something, I would peek over his shoulder," she said.

Over the years, she focused her energies on activities including ice skating, roller skating or candle-pin bowling, and on work.

"I was always working," she said. "They'd call me a workaholic. I'd rather work than go out on a date."

As she's aged, her social life has slowed. She said it wasn't that long ago that she still went out weekly with a group of friends to play cards or to eat, but they have all died in recent years.

(Continued on page 2)

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