"Seniors whose nutritional needs are not being met are at risk for other health issues, which represent greater costs in terms of health care," said Teresa Arnold, AARP South Carolina legislative director. "A nutritional meal each day helps to reduce the number of visits to hospitals and emergency rooms, and stays in nursing homes."
Many at risk for hunger
An AARP Foundation analysis found that, in the past decade, only three states had a higher percentage of their 60-plus populations at risk for hunger than South Carolina. For people 50 to 59, only four states had a higher percentage of hunger risk.
The nonprofit agencies that provide the home-delivered meals and other services are relying on attrition to cope with the budget cuts, Kester said. When recipients move to a nursing home or die, no new clients are added.
"We'd rather use this means than to cut anyone from services," he said. Nonetheless, at least 4,000 people are on waiting lists.
The number of South Carolinians 60 or older has increased nearly 40 percent in the past decade to more than 900,000. About a third have incomes low enough to qualify for federal food assistance.
By 2030, the Office on Aging said, population projections indicate that more than 1.8 million South Carolinians will be 60-plus.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, the senior Democrat on the state House Ways and Means Committee, said older people have "paid their dues. They should not be worrying about where their next meal is coming from."
The state reported a surplus of nearly $123 million for the 2011 fiscal year that ended June 30; Cobb-Hunter said some of that money should be directed at services for older residents.
Some nonprofit agencies that administer the Office on Aging's programs, including nearly 50 Councils on Aging, also receive money from donations and city or county governments. But that is shrinking also.
"Any time there are cuts, it's detrimental to your program and community," said Debbie Bower, director of Senior Resources Inc. in Columbia, which serves meals to Richland County residents.
Bower said costs for food, transportation and insurance have increased, but allocations from government have not.
To learn how to encourage state legislators to support a bigger HCBS budget, visit the AARP South Carolina website.
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Gail Crouch is a writer living in West Columbia, S.C.