Area officials with programs aimed at assisting elderly residents of Texoma remain uncertain about how proposed federal budget cuts may affect their services in the future. Earlier this week, officials with the White House announced a proposed budget that calls for cuts and elimination of funding for programs under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services.
The Texoma Council of Governments oversees the distribution of funds through the Area Agency on Aging from the HHS and other federal sources to nearly 30 programs aimed at assisting the elderly of Texoma. Despite the news that these cuts could affect its services, TCOG Director Susan Thomas said it is too early to determine what will be affected.
“It is always best to wait until the budget passes,” she said, noting it is simply a proposal. “But know we are dealing with programs that are historically underfunded.”
Under the budget, the budget for HHS is slated to see a 17.9 percent budget decrease. HUD is expected to see a 13 percent budget cut, including the elimination of $3 billion in funding from the department’s Community Development Block Grant program.
Among the programs that TCOG works with include a program aimed at long-term caregivers, counseling, and other services in Cooke, Fannin and Grayson counties. With the funding cuts at HHS, Thomas said the cuts could be focused on one aspect of funding that may be a smaller or not a focus of TCOG and local programs. With this, Thomas said large cuts could translate to relatively small hits to the programs that are supported in the area.
“If there is a significant cut to HHS … it is always hard to tell (what may be impacted),” she said. Despite this, Thomas said funding has remained relatively stable since she joined TCOG about 8 years ago.
Among the more popular programs aimed at seniors under TCOG is Meals on Wheels of Texoma. Through the program, volunteers bring roughly 9,000 meals each week to more than 1,500 elderly clients across the tri-county area, Director Greg Pittman said.
“There comes a time in nearly everyone’s life when health deteriorates, they need assistance, but they do not require institutionalization,” he said.
While some Meals on Wheels programs across the country use CDBG and Community Service Block Grant funding as a revenue source, Pittman said that the area program is fortunate in that it is not reliant on these sources. However, he said he is still concerned how the cuts to HHS could affect the program. Under its current funding, about 35 percent of the program funds come from the Older Americans Act through the Title III nutrition services program.
If the proposed budget does reduce the program’s funding, Pittman said it would “have a devastating effect on our ability to serve the older and more vulnerable segments of our community.” However, Pittman admitted that the budget isn’t set in stone yet and urged people to speak out to local representatives.
“This is the time for people who think this is an injustice … to reach out to their congressmen and speak out,” he said.
Among those who are served by Meals on Wheels is Julius and Shirley Andreas of Sherman. Both are retired and rely on the program for their evening meals. Shirley Andreas said they started using the program about two-and-a-half years ago when she started having difficulty reaching things when cooking.
“I am not able to stand for long times and cook, and he certainly doesn’t know how to cook,” she said, referring to Julius.
When asked what they’d do if the program was unable to continue service, she said she didn’t know.
“They are doing everything to forget the old people,” she said. “Don’t they care about people?”