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KPBS - Sequestration Set To Hit San Diego's Low-Income Seniors

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Location: Washington, DC

By Susan Murphy

The Sequestration fallout is set to reach one of San Diego's most vulnerable populations --- low-income seniors. The drastic cuts to vital programs could take effect starting July 1.

Some of the hardest-hit programs could be senior dining centers and home meal deliveries.

The San Diego Senior Community Centers, which provides breakfast and lunch every day of the week to hundreds of seniors, is facing cuts of $150,000 to $200,000, or 70,000 meals, many of which are delivered to home-bound elders.

The state stands to lose 750,000 meals; nationally, 17 million meals could be cut.

The sequester is hitting the senior center hard in part because of $77 million in cuts to the Older Americans Act. The funds trickle down to 20,000 providers of senior meals nationwide.

Other nationwide cuts that affect seniors include $75 million from the Administration for Community Living; $23 million cut from Community Service Employment for Older Adults and $117 million cut from Social Service Block Grants. The programs fund in-home care, transportation, adult day care, employment programs and counseling.

Congressman Scott Peters (D-Calif.) urged his fellow Congressional representatives to pass a budget to avoid the potentially devastating effects.

"We in the House have passed a budget. We got the Senate to pass the first budget in four years. Now we need the leadership of both chambers to appoint people to come together in what's called a conference and work out the differences," said Peters.

Peters is donating $1,300 per month, which he said is 8 percent of his salary, to the San Diego Senior Center to help supplement meals. He called on his fellow representatives to join him and sequester their salaries.

"If you're in Washington, D.C. and you have a comfortable job, maybe you're not feeling the effects. These people sure are," said Peters, as he served lunch to seniors during a news conference at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtown San Diego on June 10.

Debbie Case, CEO of Meals on Wheels Greater San Diego, said the San Diego branch won't see direct cuts, but they face an onslaught of indirect cuts, including tens of thousands in block grants, at a time when they're serving a record number of low-income seniors.

"You have to understand that there's been a 34 percent increase in the senior population that needs our help and are at risk of going hungry just since the great recession began in 2007," said Case. "And there are 7.9 million seniors at risk of going hungry right now in the United States."

Case said she's preparing for a possible influx of seniors as sequestration shuts down other programs.

"If a senior is going to senior adult day care during the week and all of the sudden they can't because it has been cut, what are they going to do? That's where they ate. So, they're going to be turning to us," Case said. "And how many more seniors can we take on that are affected? Where is that breaking point?"

Case said feeding seniors nutritionally-balanced meals keeps them healthy, independent and significantly reduces health care costs.

"That is what's going to cost this country more money, is the long-term care that we're going to have to provide to these seniors 'cause they're going to end up in institutions," Case said. "That's not where they want to be. They want to be home."


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