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Senior Meal Programs Brace For Bigger Cuts Than Expected

Seniors eat lunch at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtow...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Seniors eat lunch at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtown San Diego on August 21, 2013.

Senior Community Center is bracing for a 10 percent cut, which equates to more than 90,000 meals, at a time when more seniors are coming through the doors.

“Thank God for the meals and the people here who serve seniors, said James Purcell, after finishing lunch at the Senior Community Center in downtown San Diego.

Purcell is a retired hotel businessman, and one of thousands of low-income seniors in San Diego who rely on the center for daily food.

“I’m here every day for meals, breakfast and lunch,” said Purcell.

Senior Community Centers has ten dining facilities around the county -- the largest is the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center on Fourth Avenue in downtown. Together they serve half of the county’s low-income senior population and 2,100 meals every day of the week.

Rudolph Garcia, a veteran and retired writer and composer, said the nutrition he receives keeps him healthy.

"I have diabetes and I feel this is doing me a lot of good in the last two years," Garcia said.

But the center is about three months away from having to make cuts unless Congress acts, said Paul Downey, Senior Community Centers president and CEO.

That's because federal funds that support the center trickle down from the Older Americans Act, which is taking a big hit from sequestration.

Downey said the gridlock in Washington is frustrating and dangerous.

“We can’t just say, ‘Sorry you don’t get food anymore.’ And that’s essentially where Congress has left us -– is faced with having to scramble to find the money or else these people aren’t going to eat,” said Downey.

Downey said his budget is being cut 10 percent this fiscal year, which equates to more than 90,000 meals at a time when more seniors are coming through the doors.

"We served 7,000 more meals this July than we did last July and we’re on track this month to do similar kinds of numbers," Downey said.

One of those new seniors is Kathy Kadineh. She had to quit her job three months ago because of medical problems. Now she depends on the center to survive.

"I wasn’t prepared financially for what’s happening in my life right now," said Kadineh. "And a big part is the food, the nourishment because of my medical reasons."

Downy traveled to Washington earlier this month to advocate for seniors but said he saw little evidence that Congress will find a budget fix by Sept. 30, the last day of the federal fiscal year.

"For those of us out there trying to provide those services, it is incredibly frustrating when we see the impact of their lack of action," said Downey.

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