Older Americans Month by Ellie Hollander

May 16, 2013
by Ellie Hollander

May is a very special month in which, thanks to President Kennedy's proclamation fifty years ago, we honor Older Americans for the invaluable and everlasting contributions they have made to enriching life in America. Accordingly, please join me in paying tribute to our grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, friends, teachers, colleagues, military veterans, and scores of other seniors to whom we owe immeasurable thanks and gratitude. And it shouldn't stop there.

Today, as an aging Boomer, I wonder what happened to such respect—when did we seem to stop caring for those who spent years caring for us? I joined Meals On Wheels three months ago to be part of a movement to end the travesty of senior hunger in America. I simply could not understand how in the richest country in the world, one in seven seniors—or more than 8.3 million—are struggling with hunger. While daunting, that number is expected to rise exponentially to epidemic proportions predominantly due to a more rapidly aging and impoverished demographic.

Meals on Wheels programs are a lifeline to millions of older Americans who are homebound and hungry. Providing nutritious meals and a critical social connection improves their health and independence. The more Meals on Wheels can keep seniors well-nourished and in their own homes where they want to be, the less the Federal government needs to spend on nursing home care, on doctor visits, and on hospital stays funded through Medicare and Medicaid. The return on investment of each taxpayer dollar spent on Meals on Wheels is high because our programs help hundreds of thousands of seniors avoid more costly care alternatives. In fact, Meals on Wheels can feed a senior for an entire year for what it costs for just one day in the hospital.

However, because of the recent sequester, about $50 M in funding through the Older Americans Act will be eliminated in the next five months. Thousands of Meals on Wheels programs will be left with dire choices about feeding one senior and not feeding another, reducing the number of meals provided, cutting staff, and even shuttering their own doors. Unless Congress takes action, this elimination of federal funding for Meals on Wheels programs—a lifeline to some of our nation's most vulnerable, frail, lonely seniors—will continue every year over the next 10 years, and more and more seniors in need will be threatened.

At a time when we should be celebrating and honoring Older Americans, we seem to be penalizing them. How is it that a Congress seemingly divided on all issues can, within 24 hours, amass enough votes to lift an across-the-board sequester to allow the FAA the flexibility to reduce lines at airports? Let's truly honor Older Americans in May by restoring and protecting federal funding for programs that provide them with the nutrition they need to keep them healthy. It's the least we can do.

Ellie Hollander is the President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America.

Tags: Senior Hunger

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