Don't want to see federally-funded programs such as Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and the Low Income Heating Assistance Program dwindle away? Then you'd better make some noise.
That was the essential message delivered by Deb Monahan, executive director of the nonprofit Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA), at a recent New London City Council Meeting.
Sequester cuts that took effect on March 1 are already being felt across the board in a variety of TVCCA programs from Head Start to Meals on Wheels with dramatic reductions in services.
For instance, a $192,000 reduction in funding for Head Start forced TVCCA to lay off six staff in May, which meant 60 families had to leave the program. A $34,000 cut in funding for the federally-funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program meant the loss of two more TVCCA staff members.
The latest victims of the sequester are the seniors who depend on TVCCA's Senior Nutrition Program, which provides Meals on Wheels to 103 New London seniors and operates the cafe at the Senior Center.
Although the cost of the food is covered, the $66,000 cut to funding this year has forced TVCCA to layoff 12 staff members and cut the free meals served at the Senior Center down to four days a week. Two weeks ago, the agency had to reduce Meals on Wheels deliveries from four days a week to just two.
Nutrition Program Director Tim Grills has been delivering the meals himself because there's no one else to do it, but nothing compensates for the loss of daily contact, which for homebound seniors double as wellness checks. Whether the recipients are actually eating the frozen meals being delivered to tide them over until the next hot meal arrives is a different story.
"They could get up to 14 meals from us and will get frozen meals to heat up on their own, and we'll only see them two days a week," Grills said. "Some houses I went in to don't have microwaves. I don't know if they'll be able to heat their meals."
So far, TVCCA has been able to adjust its budget by reducing staff without cutting core services and, in some instances, it has been able to find alternative funding sources to bridge the gap. Asked what the city could do to help, Grills told the City Council that an additional $20,000 in funding would enable it to restore some of the losses currently being felt by Meals on Wheels.
However, if sequestration cuts continue, Monahan noted, the five percent reduction in federal funding over the next 10 years, "will have a very dramatic impact."
"If we don't make some noise, it's going to go unheard," said Grills, adding that TVCCA has been in contact with both Sen. Chris Murphy and Congressman Joe Courtney and is working on mounting a letter writing campaign to encourage Congress to change tacks.
"We have to make noise at the federal level," Grills said. If the cuts continue, he said, "We'll be closing sites and there will be less services."
That loss will be felt most significantly, Monahan added, by "frail, homebound seniors."