By Lauren Wanko
Monmouth County’s Meals on Wheels program is working with a skeleton crew. They stopped hiring and adding new routes. That’s because Interfaith Neighbors, the non-profit that operates the county’s Meals on Wheels program, is bracing for the effects of the sequester — federal across-the-board budget cuts.
“We put Band-Aids on and we deal with the here and now, and we don’t look beyond the here and now,” said Sandi Silber of Interfaith Neighbors.
Congressman Frank Pallone voted against the sequester and this morning in Asbury Park, he called for a complete reversal of the cuts.
“Look, it’s really important that Congress go back to the drawing board and figure out how they want to do the budget. There will have to be cuts but do not just cut across the board where you eliminate programs for people that are needy,” Pallone said.
People like Henry Marks can’t imagine life without the program.
“I’d probably starve to death because a lot of times I can’t get out, I’m so crippled up with my legs and my feet,” Marks said.
“Being able to be independent and be home, it gives me a sense of self worth,” said Gertrude Faye Hudson.
“To keep a person in a nursing home for a year is $57,000. To keep them on Meals on Wheels is something like $2,500,” Silber said.
Monmouth County’s Meals on Wheels program costs approximately $1.9 million a year. The federal government covers about $1.2 million of the cost, but right now the non-profit doesn’t know how much federal funding they’re going to lose.
“We most likely end up on a freeze where we’re not gonna be able to put anybody on and we’re have to start eliminating meals,” Silber said.
The White House says federally-assisted programs like Meals on Wheels would be able to serve 4 million fewer meals to seniors. Meals on Wheels Association of America says the loss is far greater. It estimates there could be 19 million fewer meals nationwide.
As for the impact here in the Garden State, Pallone said, “In New Jersey about 1,700 seniors will not receive meals.”
Meals on Wheels isn’t the only program facing federal budget cuts. Officials are worried about the impact on public safety, including police officers and firefighters.
“There are real life consequences to this process of sequester. Because of the blind cuts, we are literally playing with fire,” said Sen. Robert Menendez.
“We need to get Democrats and Republicans together and come up with an alternative as soon as possible,” Pallone said.
That’s something Monmouth County’s Meals on Wheels program and the elderly participants who count on it are hoping for.