Deep cuts to senior nutrition program felt throughout Middlesex County

CAFCA | February 13, 2017 |

Repercussions of recent and significant cuts by the agency that supplies meals for senior nutrition programs are being felt in several Middletown-area towns.  After the U.S. Administration on Aging Nutrition Services slashed its funding to states, Middlesex County and Hartford, two areas that the Community Renewal Team services, are grappling with a $350,000 gap, Vice President of Senior Services Gus Keach-Longo told seniors last week in Middletown.

 

CRT also attributes the problem to the government failing to take inflation into account — and not adjusting its support dollars.

 

“Federal funds for elderly nutrition have simply not kept up with demand,” said Jennifer Chapman, planning analyst for CRT. “Due to Connecticut’s aging population and CRT’s efforts to help the community with a quality program, the agency has been exceeding annual contractual levels for several years.”

 

In Middletown, that shortfall has forced the agency to cut back lunches from five days a week to three (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) — and reduce meals from an average of 27 to only 16. The number of meals available for the home-bound elderly have also been trimmed due to lack of funds.

CRT, which is based in Hartford, provides a range of different services to Cromwell residents — such as early care and education, economic literacy and asset building, as well as wellness and youth services. However, those services — for which the town pays CRT $2,500 — do not include meals for the elderly, Town Manager Anthony J. Salvatore said.

 

CRT has asked the town to pay $28,000 to underwrite its meals for the elderly program, he said.

“We have never had a line item in our budget nor do we have any money in place to subsidize any portion of the service CRT is no longer providing as a result of their alleged reasons,” Salvatore said.

Residents of Middletown, Cromwell, Portland, East Hampton, Durham, Middlefield, Haddam and East Haddam are served at congregate sites funded by the Middlesex Elderly Nutrition Program contract, according to Chapman. However, the contract allows for 35 percent fewer meals than were served in fiscal year 2016, she said.

 

“In working with the funder to develop a mitigation plan, the first step was to close congregate sites a number of days each month. Even with that action, the service level remained significantly above the contracted level,” Chapman said. “Based on the total number of meals served across the region, CRT computed the percentage of the regional meal total that is served at each center.”  Cuts were determined a municipality’s percentage of the total number of unreimbursed meals, Chapman explained.

 

“Service is now reduced by each center’s proportion of the total necessary reduction,” she said.

East Hampton’s interactions with CRT have not been successful, Town Manager Michael Maniscalco said last week. When the Town Council received a letter from the agency requesting $24,000 to support the meals for the elderly program, members directed Maniscalco to meet with CRT officials.

Maniscalco said he scheduled a sit-town with CRT’s director but the official never showed up for the meeting and has not yet called to apologize for her absence or to reschedule the meeting, Maniscalco said.

 

The manager sent the agency a letter expressing “how disappointed we were” that the meeting did not take place. Eventually, arrangements were made for CRT officials to sit down with the town’s Commission on Aging, Maniscalco said.

 

“Between Hartford and Middlesex County, we’ve tried everything we possibly could to cut costs, be as efficient as possible without cutting the food quality and raise money, but that didn’t work,” Keach-Longo told Middletown seniors last week. “We don’t have the money. The cost of food has gone up quite a bit over the last few years.” “We’ve been doing this for 40 years. This is the first time in 40 years we’ve had to do this.”

 

The meeting with Maniscalco ended with CRT saying it would undertake a campaign to raise the $24,000 by other means, the town manager said, adding that he is particularly disturbed by the fact that the series of mishaps have put “a truly vulnerable group — our seniors” at risk of not getting meals they need.

 

In Portland, First Selectman Susan Bransfield said selectmen will be taking up the issue during the budget-making process.  Individuals may donate funds through the CRT website, where a section has been created in response to the crisis at crt.org. Different levels of support are offered, as well as the ability to give to a specific meal site: for example, $52.50 will buy a week’s worth of food and $150 will feed seniors for a day.

 

A GoFundMe page, Senior Meal Program Middletown CT, has also been launched, however, in 11 days, only $130 of the $10,000 goal has been raised in the appeal — from two people.