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Senior programs in peril

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunFred Vantrease, a 10-year volunteer for Meals on Wheels, prepares his delivery for 16 seniors in the Truckee area on Tuesday. Irene Akin, also a volunteer, gets ready to make her delivery to seniors in the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments.
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Already working with a bare-bones budget, pending cuts for local senior programs, like nutritional services, could make things even leaner.

That has seniors in Truckee, like Wally Pascoe, concerned.

“Coming to lunch [at the Truckee Senior Center] is a reason to get up and get dressed. I wouldn’t fix lunch for myself, but I can come [to the center] and it’s convenient and reasonable,” Pascoe said. “If you’re ill, they will have a home delivered meal for you. And you save a tremendous amount of money on groceries. Plus, some people can’t shop because they don’t have a car or are too sick to take the bus.”



But those services that Pascoe and more than 1,000 other seniors in the Truckee area rely on could change starting in July 2006. Nevada County senior service providers will see a 28 percent reduction in funding, or nearly $140,000. The Area 4 Agency on Aging, the organization that administers federal dollars authorized under Title III of the Older Americans Act, is currently hearing recommendations regarding which of Nevada County’s 11 senior programs will be impacted by the cut.

Two of those programs are in Truckee, the Truckee Tahoe Seniors Council and Tahoe Forest Hospital, and for the people providing critical services to local seniors, the impact could be huge.




“Services to seniors in their homes and in the community are definitely going to decrease unless other funding sources can be found,” said Area 4 Executive Director Deanna Lea.

Lea said similar cuts have occurred in the past, but new federal funds would come in to fill the void. But that’s not the case this time, she said.

“Without having new money to offset losses we are really feeling it and it is a horrible blow,” Lea said.

The loss in funds is due in part to the rising senior populations in some of the six other counties in Area 4, namely Placer County, whose senior population has grown by 17 percent over the past four years, and Sacramento County, whose population has increased by 14 percent in that same time.

Nevada County’s senior population, on the other hand, has remained relatively stable. Other counties in Area 4 include Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba.

Area 4 funding to Nevada County is currently $495,147 to assist 22,306 seniors, about 1,500 of whom are in Truckee. The bulk of that ” $118,798 ” is used for nutrition programs, such as home meal delivery.

Locally, only 30 to 40 percent of the seniors council’s operating costs are covered by government funding, said Melanie Kauffman, the executive director of the Truckee Tahoe Seniors Council. The rest is managed by fund raising.

The seniors council is currently serving 20 percent more clients than budgeted for because demand for senior programs is high, so even a small cut will be sorely felt, Kauffman said.

“If the meal plan were reduced, I wouldn’t eat as well as I do now,” said Edna Lampert, a regular at the senior center. “It would be a big, big loss to all of us, both nutritionally and socially. And when I don’t feel well, I don’t want to cook for myself, and so won’t eat as well; it’s comforting to know that I can come here.”

Ninety percent of the seniors council’s clients come from the meals program, and it is especially vital to those seniors who are homebound, isolated, or at risk of other health issues, said Kauffman, noting that for some participants, their meal delivery person is the only visitor they might see for weeks at a time.

“When budget cuts come, we will have to start a waiting list for meal delivery and will have to stop serving in the dining room after a certain amount of people,” said Tanya Schnitzius, nutrition program manager at the senior center.

Nevada County, meanwhile, spends nearly $70,000 each year on public health nursing programs, a valuable asset to balance the fact the Truckee doesn’t have an assisted living facility for seniors, and that the closest such housing is located in Reno and South Lake Tahoe.

“In the time that we have been operating [the seniors council] we have had to find other sources of funding, that is why community fund raising is so important to us,” said Dave Dunlap, a Truckee Tahoe Seniors Council board member.

Fund raising includes programs like Adopt-a-Senior, in which individuals donate $300 per year to help sustain meals programs and to seal the deficit between what the federal government pays and what the council actually needs.

There is also a pancake breakfast on the first Sunday of every month, and an annual spaghetti dinner, silent auction, and bingo night in February.

Dunlap said the council is organizing a similar dinner event to be held Oct. 1 at the Kings Beach convention center. Proceeds will benefit the mobile meals program.

Right now, every county in Area 4 is scraping to make ends meet.

But Sacramento and Placer counties, which will soon be receiving more funds, are in desperate need too. Placer has a senior population more than double that of Nevada County ” 56,574. Placer’s current allocated budget is $705,370. And Sacramento County has a budget of $2.8 million to service its senior population of 202,256 ” numbers that equate to just a little more than $14 per senior.

But even though senior growth in Placer County has increased by 17 percent in four years, the county’s federal grant allowance has stayed the same, making it difficult to keep up with increasing demand, said Candace Roeder, the executive director of Seniors First and Senior Link Information and Referral in Placer County.

“I think that the fact that overall revenue has dropped off has to do with the disasters that have been happening in the past few years that are taking money from the community and causing local nonprofits to suffer,” Roeder said.

Meanwhile, the notion that Social Security and Medicare were going to take care of people in their later years was wrong, Roeder said.

“It’s not taking care of anything. People are totally ill-prepared because the additional costs of services aren’t something that people think about until they need it,” she said. “But I think that the baby-boomers will have more information and will be better off.”


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