Meals on Wheels proposed cut would impact more than just hungry seniors

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Seniors who depend on meals funded by the government weighed in on President Trump’s plan to cut that flow of cash to the program.

Trump’s blueprint calls for deep cuts to non-defense discretionary programs such as Meals on Wheels.  Many local programs are partially funded through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which would be eliminated if Congress passes the proposal.

Effie Stephens and Kay Fults both sat at a table eating at the Henry Brigham Senior Center on Golden Camp Road in Augusta.

“What was that apple cobbler?” Stephens asked Fults when NewsChannel 6 spoke with her about the meal.

“Oh and baked beans.  Oh, I just love them,” Fults exclaimed.

A hot meal with dessert touches not just the stomachs of the seniors, but their souls too.

Ida Hunter, another senior meals attendee said the meals are a real treat too.

“We look forward to meeting each other like a family. And we sing.  We talk.  We eat.  It’s a getaway from home.”

The senior meals program in Augusta is part of the CSRA Area Agency on Aging. Its congregate meals served at the Henry Brigham Senior Center along with thousands of meals served at home are funded through the federal CDBG program, which is slated to be eliminated in President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint.

Jeanette Cummings, /Area Agency on Aging Director, told us, “It is a proposal.  I do not think in the end that this proposal will be implemented, in a negative way, to impact our seniors.”

Trump argues the Federal Government spent more than $150 billion on the block grant since it started in 1974, but it doesn’t target the poorest people or show results.  The blueprint states cutting CDBG would save $3 billion.

Cummings tells NewsChannel 6 she’s seen threats to the 14-county feeding program before and in the end it never happens.

“I think it’s a serious conversation.  I don’t want to make light of it. But at the same time I do think that we will still have a Meals on Wheels program,” she said.

Cummings told us 211,277 congregate and home delivered meals helped feed seniors during FY 2016.  Of those, 86,180 were in Augusta-Richmond County.  29,108 meals were served in Burke County.

The Aiken Area Council on Aging served more than 77,200 meals last year according to Sharon Cowden, Home Delivery Coordinator and Case Manager.

Cummings said three square meals are crucial for a population that can’t physically prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“They’re frail, so it’s very important and if they don’t get a meal you see that a lot times it impacts their health in a very negative way,” she added.

Seniors tell me they play pinochle and other games in addition to eating a hot meal.  And that keeps them feeling alive.

“Exercising.  We do a lot of that, which I do,” Stephens said.

Fults added, “We got to eat.  We can’t just come here and sit here, you know?”

“If this is cut with the meal and stuff, people would just die quicker in the house.  They don’t have nothing to go to or look forward to,” said Hunter.

Cummings said she also gets money from the state, county and local corporations.  She’s been able to decrease the Meals on Wheels waiting list and redirect local dollars to transport dialysis patients.

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