Local Senior Meals Programs See Funding Increase

Local Senior Meals Programs See Funding Increase
By Etta Pettijohn

Beginning this month Sierra County’s seniors began benefitting from an increase in the amount of funding for congregate and home delivered meals, which will allow the Senior Center to hire additional staff and improve the quality of food served there.

According to Carol Tavis, executive director of the Sierra Joint Office on Aging (SJOA), the Non Metro Area Agency on Aging (NMAAA) has increased the price per meal distributed to the local provider from $2.50 to $4.50, due to the efforts of Rep. Rebecca Dow (D-38).

State level agencies on aging oversee community-based providers at the local level to provide services for older adults designed to help them stay healthy and independent. This allows local providers, like SJOA, to offer services to New Mexico’s elders like adult day care, congregate meals, home-delivered meals, respite care and transportation.

The New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD) monitors and evaluates the performance of all programs and activities provided by AAAs, including accounting for all financial expenditures.

“I was contacted by Joe (McClintock, former SJOA director) almost as soon as I announced my candidacy,” said Dow, who said McClintock explained to her how northern counties were receiving much higher disbursements than the more rural and poverty-stricken ones in the southern part of the state.  

“Then, after knocking on many doors I was overwhelmed by the condition many seniors were living in. Not only were they hungry, their living conditions are inadequate,” she said.

“Many are veterans, or individuals who paid into social security their entire lives. I began working with the AAA and Office of Aging and Long Term Services to get the rates increased, and to assure we could provide meals for the weekend,” said Dow. “I also reached out to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and have been promoting their single family residency improvement grants for low income individuals over 62 who own and occupy their homes.

Tavis took over the helm at the SJOA last March. Before that McClintock tried for several years to remedy the unequal disbursements.

“The rates for the group meals were not fair, with Sierra County getting just over $2 per head, and requiring local funding, while the northern counties (Areas with better representation in the legislature the past 20 years) were receiving $6 to $8 a meal,” said McClintock. “Rebecca fought, and fought, for a better reimbursement rate. She was unrelenting, and demanded the seniors in her district get the cap rate.”

Tavis agreed with McClintock, saying, “Rep. Dow was very instrumental in getting the higher rates. We are a smaller community, with fewer business and industry support, and the metro counties get more support from lager non-profit and city and county sources.”

  Some of the problems were with compliance, said Tavis. Over the years the AAA would freeze rates for compliance issues, like not having more prepared, as opposed to processed, foods.

“But, we didn’t have the budget to have the staff to prepare these,” she said. “Now we can pay the staff to prepare these and we have hired two new positions for this purpose.”

The SJOA serves about 770,000 meals to 1,000 residents at the Senior Centers in Truth or Consequences and Arrey annually, as well as delivering these to homebound seniors in the county. It also provides almost 12,000 rides in the senior vans annually for 260 seniors who have no transportation, 16,000 hours of homemaking and respite care services for six residents, 7,000 hours in personal care services, and 3,000 hours in senior employment training.

These programs do more than offer food and transportation for medical appointments and to pay bills or conduct other business. 

In many cases, the people delivering the meals, performing homemaker duties or checking on seniors after abuse has been reported, are the only persons these seniors have contact with.

New Mexico’s aging population is growing rapidly, according to the New Mexico Aging and Long-time Service Department. The agency predicts that by the year 2030, 32.5 percent of New Mexico’s population will be age 60 or older, and the state will rank third in number of seniors 60 and older.

In Sierra County the population of seniors comprises about 40 percent of the overall population.

The City of Truth or Consequences funds a portion of the SJOA budget, and provides the building where the programs are housed, and utilities, for free.