Jill Salyers ( far right with Senator Corker's office) visiting and delivering a meal to Barbara Frangipani Wednesday morning. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
To highlight the 20 percent reduction in food deliveries to homebound seniors in Northeast Tennessee that has occurred since the last since the start of federal funding cuts known as “sequestration,” the First Tennessee Human Resource Agency invited the region’s U.S. lawmakers to ride along with its Meals on Wheels volunteers Wednesday.
While Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Rep. Phil Roe were not able to attend, each sent a representative from their office to learn more about the FTHRA nutrition program and meet a few of the people it serves.
FTHRA Communications Director Stephanie Walker told the group that since the $85 billion sequestration cuts kicked in early March, Meals on Wheels rolls for its eight-county region has dropped form 1,000 to 800 seniors and disabled adults.
While income is considered in assessing eligibility for the home-delivered meals, FTHRA Nutrition Program Director Wayne Cater said it is not the determining factor. Instead, Carter said the program’s primary criteria is the recipient’s loss of ability to ensure their own nutrition.
“Are they getting fed? Are they even capable of preparing a meal? Today you will see people who are not very mobile and people who are not mobile at all.
“Some people have income and have been active all of their life but will suddenly come to a place that they take care of themselves and it’s dangerous for them. So it’s need and health driven,” Carter said.
“It includes disabled adults who as may be as young as 18 or 19. Most are least 50 or 60 and some are past 100.”
FTHRA Executive Director Jason Cody said the underlying purpose of Meals on Wheels is the savings in health care costs the program provides by helping people who are at risk of nursing home placement to remain in their homes as long as possible.
To illustrate the savings, Cody cited a study by the Center for Effective Government that shows for the cost of delivering an at-risk senior one meal a day for one year is the equivalent of one day of hospital care or a six-day stay in a nursing home.
“I know in Washington it’s about the dollars but the value of this program is to keep people at home as long as possible. This program is saving taxpayers’ dollars,” Cody said.
Walker said the cost of providing the program’s hot boxed meals is about $130 per month for one meal a day for one senior. The cost of the meals delivery is borne by “literally, an army” of volunteers.
On the Johnson City delivery route with volunteer Jim Brading, a retired 1st Judicial District Circuit Court judge, and his wife, Ruth, introduced Jill Salyers, field director for Corker’s office in Jonesborough, to 68-year-old Barbara Franpani.
Franpani is recovering from cataract surgery in both eyes and her husband, Thomas, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s very helpful. And it’s so good,” Franpani said of the boxed lunches, which on Wednesday included pork barbecue, baked potato wedges, baked beans, pears, a bun and milk.
“As expensive as food is, it’s crazy,” she said. “Anybody I know that’s in need, I tell them about it. Usually you can call down to the senior center and there will be someone who has the information for you.”