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Home-Delivered Meals Face Budget Cut

Governor's proposal would eliminate 240,000 meals

Joe MacFarlane helps prep for Meals on Wheels at the Whipple Senior Center.

Joe MacFarlane, 76, prepares to serve lunch at the senior center in Weymouth. Gov. Deval Patrick wants to trim the agency’s budget that pays for community lunches and home-delivered meals. — Photo by Channing Johnson

Shirley MacFarlane has lunch at the senior center in Weymouth twice a week, where she chats with friends.

"If I eat this now, then I just have a sandwich later," said MacFarlane, 73.

Her husband, Joe, 76, a retired Navy engineer, is one of the volunteers who serve the meals before sitting down to eat their own.

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The MacFarlanes are among those concerned about Gov. Deval Patrick's (D) proposed 24 percent reduction in the Elderly Nutrition Program. The $1.5 million cut would eliminate more than 240,000 free or subsidized lunches for seniors.

The Elderly Nutrition Program provides more than 8.5 million meals each year to people 60 and older. Meals are served at more than 400 community centers and are delivered to older people in their homes. The program is paid for with state and federal money; voluntary donations of about $2 per meal are requested of people who can afford it.

"We have more than a billion dollars in the state's rainy day fund, and we can't spare $1.5 million of that to protect these meals?'' asked Deborah Banda, AARP Massachusetts state director. "That's a sad value judgment."

Banda said if older people who have lunch at community centers do not get these meals, they may require more medical care because of poor nutrition and isolation, and the expense would be much more than the amount Patrick wants to cut.

"We think it's extremely shortsighted and, frankly, it's very coldhearted," Banda said.

The House and Senate will reconcile their versions of the state's 2013 budget with the goal of submitting legislation for Patrick to sign by the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Next: State legislators weigh budget. »

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