by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, March 2011) As seniors from Merrick House, which is slated to close on March 31st, make the transition to West Side Community House, the senior program at West Side Community House is also making some adjustments to changes in transportation services and new rules for meals. The additional seniors in the program create a challenge to increase the availability of parking at West Side Community House.
In February, with encouragement and incentives from its funding sources, West Side Community House began using a new transportation service called Senior Transportation Connection. Kolograf says this service will be available to all seniors at Merrick House who currently receive transportation or who walk to the center. She says Senior Transportation Services (STS) is a non-profit organization set up by those who fund senior services. STS will pick seniors up at their homes; drivers are equipped with phones to call seniors if necessary and they will also get out of the vehicle to ring door bells and assist seniors in getting into the van. The service area from which qualified seniors can receive transportation to West Side Community House will now stretch roughly from the Cuyahoga River to W. 117th and from Lake Erie to the Zoo.
West Side Community House Executive Director Dawn Kolograf acknowledges that parking is a problem at West Side Community House. She hopes in the near future that Cudell Improvement and Ward 16 Councilman Jay Westbrook will assist WSCH in creating a parking lot directly across Lorain Avenue from the WSCH. She envisions a traffic light, a crosswalk, a well-landscaped parking lot with a community garden and benches in the rear. Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging’s (WRAAA) Julie Jarvis indicated that the agency no longer provides funds for capital improvements. Westbrook says he is working to address the issue of parking, but noted that land assembly will take time.
Kolograf says funding for the senior programs continues to decline while costs increase. The program once funded fully in 1976 has seen a steady erosion of funding levels since that time. She says WRAAA is the largest funding source, providing funding for meals for senior age 60. Cuyahoga County through federal Title XX dollars provides funds for meals for low-income individuals who are handicapped.
Jarvis confirms that funding levels have remained flat or decreased while costs have increased over the past 20 years. She says the majority of their funding comes from the Older Americans Act which Congress has be funding with a continuing resolution and WRAAA will not know until March if funding levels will remain the same for next year. The program also receives a smaller portion of federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture, which bases the allocation on the number of meals served – the more they serve the more they get. The State of Ohio used to provide about 20% of the budget for WRAAA, however in recent years the amount from Ohio has been cut significantly and now provides less than 13% of the budget. In 2009 alone the allocation was cut by 39%.
Jarvis says this year in order to improve the quality of the meals served and to meet new regulations from the Ohio Department of Aging, WRAAA sent out new bid specifications to caterers. The bid for the improved quality lunches was 66¢ higher per lunch raising the price per meal to $3.48. Jarvis says this means that 12% fewer meals will be able to be served this year. Of course that will mean less funds from the USDA, which provides funds on a per meal basis. Jarvis says the total number of meals WRAAA can offer in the 5 county area it serves will decline form 1.3 million a year to just over 1 million meals.
Jarvis says that in order to accommodate this decline participants will be asked a series of questions to determine level of need before being registered in the lunch program. She anticipates that new or unexpected arrivals can be given lunches from individuals who don’t’ show up or be given meals from home deliveries that were cancelled for that day. She says if no meal is available, the person can be put on a waiting list. Waiting lists will help centers to lobby for additional funds, she said.