BY MICHAEL RICONDA
The politicians gathered with volunteers and Meals on Wheels leadership to join a group of seniors for lunch that afternoon. As the end of budget season approaches, all are expected to contribute to negotiations at local, state and federal levels of government where millions in funding to food programs might be subject to elimination.
On the federal level, an appropriations bill is expected to pass sometime before December 11, but not before cuts to food programs are explored by Lowey’s House Appropriations Committee. According to Lowey, the work performed by Meals on Wheels is too critical to cut, particularly during the holiday season.
“When you think about it, 1.3 million federal dollars comes for meals for Rockland County,” Lowey said. “That is a lot of money in my book and I’m sure it is to you, and we want to work as hard as we can to make sure that those dollars will be there.”
As the chair for the Appropriations Committee (through the end of the year), Lowey has enjoyed influence in which programs are funded, though partisan conflicts in Washington D.C. have made budget talks more contentious in recent years.
“I do hope wiser heads will prevail because frankly, to even think about the money being lost would be a disaster,” Lowey continued.
About $46 million in federal cuts to senior nutrition were levied during sequestration cuts in 2013. However, these cuts were effectively restored for the 2014 fiscal year.
Though funding was restored for 2014, Meals on Wheels’ resources remain limited and services are frequently strained by overwhelming demand. In Rockland, Meals on Wheels serves about 450 home-bound residents with about 160,000 meals, but according to Meals on Wheels’ incoming President and CEO Don Hammond, the organization still has a waiting list which currently stands at 17 people.
Aid to seniors might also be jeopardized in other ways. Seniors who use SNAP (food stamps) were impacted last year when a negotiated $8.6 billion in cuts were enacted through a federal farm bill. However, the impact was partly mitigated by state programs which restore funding in exchange for participation in a federal heating assistance program dubbed “Heat and Eat.”
It remains to be seen how much of the negotiated savings will be realized. Cuts to food stamp programs are also under review this year.