Before a deal was worked out to end the partial shutdown and temporarily reopen the federal government Friday, at least one local agency was preparing a contingency plan to use as government resources tapered off.
Meals on Wheels Texoma Executive Director Greg Pittman said the agency currently has funding in place, but explained things were complicated even before the shutdown. He said the agency’s goal is to become self reliant in the future to avoid potential funding issues.
“If the federal money diminishes, we’d have to use an increasing portion of our donor funds,” Pittman said. “We have between three and four months of cash reserves on hand to cover our expenses.”
Pittman said the shutdown’s impact didn’t reach crisis level for the local agency. If the government shuts down again, there’s a chance it could reach that level. Meals on Wheels Texoma currently serves about 1,400 people, with around 1,100 meals delivered to homes and the remainder of people who receive meals have them provided at the agency’s public events. Pittman said roughly 50 percent of those are in Grayson County, 30 percent in Fannin County and the rest in Cooke County.
Meals on Wheels receives a significant amount of its operating funds from government sources, some federal and some state. Pittman said the math is complicated but it amounts to the federal government paying about 80 percent of the cost towards roughly 60 percent of their meals, with a small portion coming from state sources and the rest from donors.
“Every dollar we receive from the community goes directly to providing meals for someone who would otherwise be sitting on a waiting list,” Pittman said. “Thirty percent of the people we serve without government funds would not be served without the generosity of our donors.”
Pittman said the funding issue has been looming over the agency for nearly two years.
“We are still hurting for funding,” Pittman said. “We have people who need meals we can’t serve. The shutdown makes us worried because those extra 30 percent we can serve with private funds, those are the first people we’d have to cut. The federal funds cover overheard, as well as the cost of doing business.”
Pittman said the government reimburses them through different programs based on a formula that determines the amount of meals the agency should be able to deliver. However, he said in order to receive those funds the agency can only serve customers who are referred to them by a government agency with referral powers, such as Health and Human Services.
Pittman said in the past two years, the agency has seen a decline in referrals.
“For a long time our reliance on government funding has been a liability,” Pittman said. “We have no control what happens to the government. Social services in particular are more vulnerable under certain administrations than others.”
He said the biggest challenge is how the agency has to serve more people each year with roughly the same amount of money. Pittman explained the funds buy fewer meals for the increased number of people aging into the program.
“Because of our reliance on government funding, we have tripled down on fundraising efforts to grow our donor constituency five times over the past four years,” Pittman said. “We want to have as little reliance on government funding as possible. We have a real imperative for us to become as self sustaining as we possibly can.”