Pocahontas County Senior Center director John Simmons wants to make elected officials aware that senior programs are struggling, but he said there are no plans to close the county’s centers.
Senior centers have had to do some fancy footwork for several years to keep programs going. Faced with more state budget cuts and the upcoming increase in minimum wage, Simmons is looking to head off problems by alerting politicians and the public.
The increase in minimum wage goes into effect in January, and Simmons said that increase will cost the center an additional $2,000 per month, and there is no money in the budget to cover that.
As money goes out, no changes have been made to increase what is coming in.
The center receives reimbursement for meals, but that reimbursement has remained the same for the past 14 years, while the cost of providing meals has increased from $3,900 per month to $6,000 for raw foods only, Simmons said. That cost does not include labor, transportation, upkeep of buildings and vehicles, nor utilities.
Seniors are asked to make a donation to help offset the cost of meals. The formula for those donations is based on income, but donations are not mandatory, and seniors are not denied meals because of their inability to pay.
For the past several years the PCSC has relied heavily on contributions from the community and senior-sponsored fundraisers to keep the Meals on Wheels program afloat and pull the centers through the final months of the funding year.
When the price of gas skyrocketed a few years ago, the centers began to supplement home-delivered hot meals with frozen meals, traveling through the county three days a week rather than five. This reduced the cost of the program, but also reduced the social contact that some seniors depend on as much as the food.
Simmons said he was not sure what the legislature can do, and he understands that it can only do so much given the fact that tax revenue has declined.
“I want to address problems before it’s too late,” Simmons said. “It’s my job to run up the red flag, so that somewhere down the road people won’t say, ‘why didn’t you tell us this was happening?’”
He has been in conversation with Bureau of Senior Services commissioner Robert Roswall.
Simmons is hopeful, and he will continue “run up the red flag” to ensure Pocahontas County seniors have access to the services they need.