Budget Cuts Leave Older Adults At Risk of Hunger

FEATURING: Sarah McKinney, Director of Development & Volunteer Services and Eve Anthony, Vice President, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens, Georgia;

Mildred Cody, PhD, RD, LD, Interim Chair, Nutrition, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia


Helping Seniors Stay Independent and at Home

The state of Georgia ranks 6th overall in state rankings for risk of hunger among older adults, and 8.74 percent of Georgia residents ages 60 and older are food insecure,i meaning that they lack consistent access to adequate food.ii
To address the tremendous need for food assistance in Georgia, the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) is making great strides toward reducing food insecurity in the 12 counties of northeast Georgia. ACCA serves home-delivered meals to 350 older adults in Barrow and Clarke Counties each day and meals in a congregate setting to 60 enrollees at ACCA’s Center for Active Living. With menus developed by a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), meals served by enthusiastic volunteers help foster independent living by preventing premature institutionalization and act as a critical opportunity for socialization for seniors who might otherwise become isolated from their communities.

Since the launch of ACCA’s “Squash Senior Hunger” campaign in 2010, rates of food insecurity have decreased from 45 percent to just 5 percent among older adults receiving home-delivered meals, and food insecurity among older adults participating in the congregate meal program at the Center for Active Living has decreased from 60 percent to 20 percent of participants.iii Clearly, these services are working to improve health and reduce food insecurity in Georgia.

Budget Cuts Threaten Seniors

ACCA’s home-delivered and congregate meal programs would not be possible without the $1.2 million in Administration for Community Living (formerly Administration on Aging) funds awarded to ACCA from its local area agency on aging. Unfortunately, senior nutrition programs did not escape cuts during sequestration; home-delivered meals programs in Georgia lost $5.3 million (a 3.74 percent cut), while congregate meal programs were cut by a whopping $10.1 million (nearly 8 percent).iv Ongoing shortfalls in federal funding mean that the extent to which these services can continue to meet the growing need is uncertain. As Dr. Mildred Cody of Georgia State University explained:

Senior meal programs help to maintain physical health and sustain emotional health. These programs are true community partnerships with volunteer engagement and philanthropic assistance, but they require the infrastructure provided by consistent federal and state funding.

The ACCA’s Director of Development & Volunteer Services, Sarah McKinney, and Vice President, Eve Anthony, know all too well the affect that uncertain budget levels can have on the services that their organization can provide. In 2013, cuts in federal funding meant potentially having to tell 14 of the 52 people receiving a hot meal every day at the Center for Active living that they would have to be cut from the program.v “In our mind, that’s tragic,” said Sarah. “To walk into a room of older adults who rely on us for socialization, food, and chronic disease management and tell 14 of them they couldn’t come back…We couldn’t do it.”

Strategic Partnerships Not Enough

To the leaders at the ACCA, kicking vulnerable older adults out of the congregate meals program was unconscionable. Thankfully, partnerships that Eve, Sarah, and their colleagues worked diligently to develop have helped fill the shortfall in federal funds – for now. Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia was able to step in and replace the meals that would otherwise have been cut due to reduced federal funding during sequestration, allowing the agency to narrowly avoid cutting 14 congregate meal clients from the program.

Funds from partnerships like Campus Kitchen and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia are no longer simply supplementing federal funds. These funds must now replace monies previously available through annual federal appropriations. While Eve and Sarah express relief that they have not yet had to cut services to their clients, they recognize that over time, their “capacity to do more with less is greatly reduced.” At any given time, at least 100 people wait on ACCA’s waiting list for the home-delivered meals program. In other words, at least 100 older adults in northeast Georgia go to sleep hoping the next morning they will find out they are finally eligible for the program, and will be able to look forward to at least one hot, healthy meal each day. They also have a long waiting list for the congregate meal program. Were it not for ongoing federal budget cuts, ACCA could serve many more clients, have an even greater impact on reducing food insecurity in the community, and prevent countless unnecessary hospitalizations due to malnutrition.

Tough Choices Ahead

Eve and Sarah are not just concerned with the now. They remain committed to providing preventive services to their clients, recognizing that if home- and community-based services proven to save money in the short term are cut today, older adults and our health care system will have to pay much more in hospital, emergency room, and nursing home admissions in the long term. As Eve explained, “preventive services ultimately save money, and are just better for the consumer and the client.” While they have worked hard to control expenses and to develop a robust development plan that will help the agency weather shortfalls in federal funding, ongoing cuts continue to threaten ACCA’s ability to serve the needs of food insecure older adults in Georgia.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

i “Food Insecurity Among Older Adults.” Report Submitted to AARP Foundation by Dr. James P. Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen. August 2011. Web. 26 Mar 2014. http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/aarpfoundation/pdf2011/AARPFoundationHungerReport2011.pdf

ii “Definitions of Food Security.” United States Department of Agriculture. September 2013. Web. 26 Mar 2014.

iii Author’s telephone interview with Sarah McKinney, Director of Development & Volunteer Services, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens, GA and Eve Anthony, Vice President, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens, GA. March 19, 2014.

iv “Estimated FY2013 Older Americans Act Nutrition Cuts Due to the Sequester.” Meals on Wheels Association of America. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar 2014. http://www.mowaa.org/document.doc?id=530

v Author’s telephone interview with Sarah McKinney, Director of Development & Volunteer Services, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens, GA and Eve Anthony, Vice President, Athens Community Council on Aging, Athens, GA. March 19, 2014.