By Polly Keary, Editor
Less than a month into her first term as U.S. Representative for the 1st District, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene Friday accepted an invitation from Snohomish County Senior Services to tag along with Meals on Wheels in order to see the value of food programs for the elderly.
DelBene visited two homes in Monroe with Meals on Wheels, and at both, program participants said they didn’t know how they’d get by without the program.
Nora Snyder, 84, has no shortage of gumption.
She went to work as a mechanic for Boeing in the early 1950s and worked her way up to head mechanic in her 27-year career there.
She’s smart, too. As a mechanic, she earned thousands of bonus dollars for making successful suggestions to improve efficiency.
And she’s tough; she recently fell out of bed and got a black eye, which she declared was “funny,” over the protestations of her daughter and caregiver Patricia Falstitch, who insisted that it was not funny at all.
“Oh, I thought it was,” said Snyder, laughing.
A heart attack ended her career while she was still in her 50s, but she owned her home on Old Owen, where she’s lived for 44 years, so she wasn’t as vulnerable as some seniors.
However, her Boeing pension isn’t much by today’s standards, and she gets just $16 a month in food assistance from DSHS.
So the seven frozen meals and the occasional supplemental box including crackers and other non-perishable snack foods she gets from Meals on Wheels, a food program in which meals are brought directly to seniors’ homes, are a “godsend,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful service,” said Snyder to DelBene. “I don’t know what we’d do without it.”
It’s hard on her pride sometimes, said her daughter, Patricia Falstitch, who is Snyder’s caregiver. Asking for help doesn’t come easy. But on days when the meals run out, they sometimes get by on fried egg sandwiches.
Seniors enrolled in the program, which is funded by the 1965 Older Americans Act, used to get 10 meals a week. But expenses rose and funding didn’t. Now seniors get seven meals each week, and for the first time the program isn’t able to serve all comers. There are now about 65 people on a waiting list, said Martha Peppones, director of Senior Services of Snohomish County.
The meals came just in time for Lynn, a senior who lives on the third floor of the Morning Run Apartments, and who, because she uses a walker, can’t get out much.
“My food stamps come on the fourth,” she said. “I’m hoping we can get through till then.”
She is cheerful, a diehard Seahawks fan with a quick laugh, but her circumstances are difficult.
On a bakers rack near the kitchen, there are a few bananas and apples, a couple of packs of Top Ramen and a two large Tupperware containers, one with a little cereal in it. The rest of the rack was empty.
“At the end of the month, we scrape by,” said Lynn. She’s very careful with her Meals on Wheels dinners, but sometimes when there’s nothing else she has to eat two in one day, which leaves her short at the end of the week.
But it’s not just the food that sustains Lynn. It’s the company of the driver, who clients often greet by name. Sometimes he is the only visit a senior gets in a week, and clients are very fond of him. And he sometimes is a lifeline for seniors, reporting on situations of concern when he notices them.
Meals on Wheels delivers meals to about 25 homes in the Sky Valley, but those aren’t the only seniors who get food support from Senior Services.
Just after noon, DelBene visited the East County Senior Center, where about 30 seniors were gathered for lunch, which is provided for $2.50.
“This is a congregation site,” said Jacob McGee, program director at the senior center. Congregation sites are places where meals can be served in a setting in which seniors can gather and meet because isolation is a hazard for many seniors.
At Village Apartments West, an apartment complex for seniors on fixed incomes, seniors explained to DelBene what the food programs mean to them.
One man pointed out that poor nutrition has been shown to be a factor in Alzheimer’s Disease, and Peppones noted that nutrition factors in with many other health issues.
“For the cost of one day in the hospital, we can provide a person with a year’s worth of meals,” she said.
Cutting programs like the Older Americans Act can cost money in the long run, DelBene observed as she sat around a table with about 10 seniors at the apartment complex.
“We don’t always do a good job looking at the return on our investment,” she said. “We don’t see that the money we save in the short term can cost us more in the long term.”
But the Older Americans Act is due to be reauthorized, and that’s why Senior Services invited DelBene to see the impact of their programs.
The program doesn’t cost much–it’s what Peppones calls “budget dust”–and it’s been continuously reauthorized since 1965.
But the biggest threat to the program right now is sequestration. If the federal government doesn’t take steps to undo a legal requirement calling for $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years because of the failure of a committee to identify a plan to reduce the deficit by that amount within 10 years, the budget cuts will go into effect soon.
The cuts will be divided between defense and other “discretionary” spending, and it could result in an eight percent cut to Senior Services.
“That will eliminate 10,000 meals in the county,” said Peppones. “We’d potentially have to take people off the program.”