DeKALB – Dwindling federal funding is making it harder for homebound senior citizens in DeKalb County to receive food through the local Meals on Wheels program.
With the federal sequester in March leading to budget cuts for social service programs and a government shutdown this month wiping out funding altogether, the Sycamore-based Voluntary Action Center's Meals on Wheels program is relying on funding from local businesses, foundations, churches and social service agencies to keep the wheels turning.
The lack of federal funding handicaps the program that provides meals and in some cases, a rare opportunity for social interaction for seniors in the county. The lack of federal funding for the program is frustrating for Ellen Rogers, associate director of the center.
"It's difficult to have it so much in the air when [Meals on Wheels has] been proven as a successful means of helping people remain in their home," she said.
The program already eliminated Saturday service before the government shutdown on Sept. 30, when a dispute about funding for the federal Affordable Care Act left federal lawmakers at loggerheads on a new spending bill.
Rogers said the Voluntary Action Center may have to limit services to clients who are considered high-risk or have little support. Seniors in rural areas, some of them who live by themselves, may also not receive meals compared to people living in Genoa, Sycamore, DeKalb, Cortland and Sandwich.
The number of people on a waiting list for the program is also increasing as a result of decreased federal funding. Rogers said there are about 30 people throughout the DeKalb County who are on waiting lists.
"We're not getting the money that we need and so that's creating waiting lists," said Ron Mullen, Meals on Wheels coordinator.
Meals on Wheels volunteers are not only looking to keep the program running through donations from local sources, but also by holding fundraising events such as golf outings.
There have been cutbacks in local revenue sources as well, however. Rogers said the DeKalb County Mental Health Board stopped funding the nutrition part of the program in July, which would have been $6,000.
The Voluntary Action Center receives about 9 percent of their funding for the program from the federal Area Agency on Aging in Rockford, which is one of the 13 that receives funding through the Older Americans Act, which was established in 1965 to provide community-based services for senior citizens.