We don’t fundamentally disagree with the push to reduce federal spending that led to the across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration.”
But the blunt, across-the-board nature of the reductions have caused hardships that could have been avoided had federal lawmakers been able to reach a bargain with more targeted cuts. The effects are felt even here in DeKalb County.
The spending reductions, which took hold in March after federal legislators failed to reach an agreement on how best to reduce federal spending, are meant to cut $85.4 billion in federal spending this year, and $1.1 trillion in federal spending over 10 years.
There were some early complaints – furloughs for air traffic controllers were canceled so the nation’s commercial air travelers would not be disrupted, for example. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlement programs were spared.
But many agencies, from the Pentagon in Washington to the Voluntary Action Center in DeKalb, were left to try to find a way to absorb the cuts and still offer services that people count on.
Locally, that means that the Meals on Wheels program, which receives about 9 percent of its funding from a program authorized by the federal Older Americans Act, has been forced to contract. While their costs have risen, federal funding has shrunk.
Meals on Wheels is not a “pork barrel” program that employs a vast bureaucracy. Rather, it relies on volunteers who donate their time and the use of their vehicles to deliver food to about 250 to 280 elderly people in DeKalb County on a given day.
Many of the clients say the service is a key factor in helping them remain in their homes, rather than in an institutional home. For some it also provides one of a few opportunities to socialize with others, and also provides a regular source of well-being checks.
Already, Saturday meal deliveries have been dropped as a result of funding cuts. About 10 percent of people who apply for the program are directed to a waiting list because of funding restrictions, and that number is expected to climb when the Action Center’s budget is further reduced in October. The service might also be reduced to three days a week, officials say.
Hopefully, the Voluntary Action Center can devise innovative ways of fundraising and attracting more donations of time and materials to make the service sustainable.
Most programs that receive federal funding are deemed worthy by someone, which is what makes budget reductions unpopular.
However, Meals on Wheels is a program that has a tangible benefit to our community – and many across the country – by helping seniors stay in their homes. It is a shame that our representatives in Washington could not reach an agreement that would have allowed targeted cuts, rather than the blunt force of the sequester.