Federal Funds For Meals On Wheels Tied Up In Shutdown

Alison Foreman is the executive director of Ypsilanti Meals On Wheels, which feeds about 200 elderly clients. She tells Melissa Block the government shutdown has tied up the federal money her program relies on to feed low-income seniors.

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Nutrition programs that feed the elderly have not been exempted from the closure. For example, Meals on Wheels in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It feeds about 200 elderly clients - most of whom live alone - supplying what for many is their only meal of the day.

ALISON FOREMAN: Our meal today is one of our clients' absolute favorites. It's chili with cornbread and stewed vegetables.

BLOCK: That's Alison Foreman, executive director of Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels. She says they're scrambling to figure out how to replace the federal funds, which cover 60 to 70 percent of their food budget.

FOREMAN: We had thought, wow, we could lose funding as of this Friday and we don't really have that much reserve. However, after talks with the county and the county talked with the state, they said they could continue to fund us for up to an additional two weeks after this coming Friday. But after two weeks, they wouldn't be able to guarantee any kind of funding for us, which becomes very problematic for us. And it got our executive committee and our board really putting their heads together saying how long could we continue without that source of funding. And we kind of crunched the numbers this morning, and it didn't look great. It was maybe two weeks to a month.

BLOCK: So what would you do past that if it came to that? If the shutdown really does go on for quite some time, what would you do?

FOREMAN: Sad to say, we would have to ask them to start paying towards the meals, and our meals are approximately $7 for the cost of the food and to deliver it. And we could maybe, if we dipped a little bit into reserves and if we got really smart with reaching out to everybody we know in the community, we might be able to ask them for $5 a meal. But still, that's, you know, a huge amount of money to ask our clients for each day.

BLOCK: You know, we talked to a lot of people today running senior nutrition programs, and a number of them said that they had already been cutting back because of sequestration, those across-the-board spending cuts. Is that true for the Meals on Wheels in Ypsilanti too?

FOREMAN: Absolutely. This has been kind of a downward track of funding in the last few years. In fact, we had to - approximately about a year, maybe a year and a half ago, we had to cut Saturday delivery.

BLOCK: Well, how worried are you about the government shutdown, or do you figure that they will resolve this within a reasonable amount of time and you'll be clear to do what you need to do?

FOREMAN: I have this vision of being cautiously optimistic. Most of our politicians are hearing from their constituents about how upset they are on what's going on currently. And I think a lot of the politicians know that this can't continue to go on, and they really do, I believe, want to work together. I hope they do.

BLOCK: That's Alison Foreman. She is executive director of Meals on Wheels for Ypsilanti, Michigan. Ms. Foreman, thanks very much.

FOREMAN: Thank you.

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