Seniors First to close for a month due to shutdown effects

10/22/2013 5:59 PM

10/22/2013 6:00 PM

Seniors First, which administers Placer County’s federally funded seniors programs, including Meals on Wheels, plans to shut its doors on Nov. 1 for at least a month. Agency officials say the action is the result of a lingering funding logjam created by the federal government shutdown earlier this month.

“The shutdown slowed federal payments to us, and we’re 100percent reliant on that money,” said Jamee Horning, a Seniors First manager. “We don’t have a lot of outside funding.”

At least 30 Seniors First employees will be temporarily laid off, said the agency’s finance manager, Herman Gallegos. The organization’s annual budget is about $500,000.

While Seniors First will temporarily shutter its nine seniors cafes, which provide reduced-fee meals for older adults, the agency will be able to continue delivering Meals on Wheels frozen dinners to its home-bound clients, said Area 4 Agency on Aging executive director Pam Miller.

“We’ve stepped in with the home-delivered meals in the Auburn area,” she said. “There won’t be a gap in that service. When all this happened with the shutdown, we decided as an agency that our whole focus would be on home-delivered meals.

“Those are our most frail and needy seniors.”

Last year, Seniors First served more than 68,000 meals to Placer County older adults through its federally funded nutrition program.

Programs on hiatus will include Seniors First’s transportation program, which last year gave almost 16,000 rides to seniors who needed help getting to medical appointments and running errands; its telephone assistance program, which served almost 250 callers each month in 2012; its Friendly Visitor program connecting the ailing and isolated home-bound with the outside world; and its handyman program, which made safety repairs and home modifications to 2,500 Placer County households last year.

Seniors First hopes to resume all those services by Dec. 1, Gallegos said – but officials say the funding logjam could take up to four months to resolve itself.

That’s because the federal Administration on Aging – which funds a host of Older Americans Act programs, including Meals on Wheels – needs to ramp back up after the shutdown, said Miller.

The Administration on Aging allocates funds to the California Department on Aging, which in turn divides the state’s Older Americans Act money between the state’s 33 Agencies on Aging. The Area 4 Agency on Aging then distributes its share of funds to seniors programs in the seven-county Sacramento region, including Placer County.

“First, the sequester brought cuts to us,” said Miller. “And with the shutdown, no federal money has been flowing to us. The money will be released, but there will be a lag time.

“Most of our other county providers tell us they’ll be OK into December. But most of our providers have more resources than Seniors First.”

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has loaned seniors programs in Sacramento the money to stay open and operational for now, Miller said.

“Our agency also is not receiving federal funds,” she said. “We have enough money to keep our doors open through mid-November. But we need to be here to administer the programs and the funding.”

Seniors First has also requested a loan from Placer County supervisors, said Gallegos, and the agency is holding a Nov. 2 fundraiser.

“There’s gloom and doom,” he said, “but we have a glimmer of hope.”

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