OGDEN -- A combination of funding cutbacks, rising prices and changing demographics is causing drastic cutbacks in Weber County's senior nutrition program.
Starting July 1, the number of people who can get Meals on Wheels in Weber and Morgan counties is going down by 100. Senior centers will stop serving lunch one day a week.
While not directly related to nutrition, The Ride, a transportation service for the elderly, is also cutting back.
Weber Senior Services Director Kelly VanNoy said he has a $220,000 hole in his annual $1.6 million senior nutrition budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Similar funding problems, plus soaring gasoline prices, are forcing a reduction in The Ride.
Like nutrition, he said, The Ride is setting priorities as to who can use it and for what reason. Medical trips will get precedence over shopping trips, for example.
The senior nutrition program in Davis County is not cutting its nutrition program back, because it is structured differently.
Mike Stiles, deputy director of the State Division on Aging and Adult Services, said Utah as a whole is losing federal funds for senior programs because of the end of federal stimulus funds.
VanNoy said his agency, which serves both Weber and Morgan counties, has been hit by what he called "a perfect storm" of problems.
In addition to cuts in federal funding, Weber has fewer senior citizens relative to other counties. Weber's population is not growing as fast as other areas of the state, and the senior population is growing faster in other areas, such as St. George.
Stiles said Utah distributes state and federal funds according to population, so areas with faster growing elderly populations are getting more money.
"We have a smaller portion of a smaller pie," VanNoy said.
In the budget year that starts July 1, Weber lost $23,874 in federal Meals on Wheels funds, $21,475 in state home delivery meal funds and $5,584 in state nutrition funding.
The rest of the $220,000 shortfall comes from increased expenses and fewer donations.
Cuts in meals have a snowball effect. Reducing the number of meals means other federal programs that subsidize the meals pay him less, so he has to produce even fewer meals to make up for that loss.
"We're cutting more than a meal to save the amount of a meal because we get 62 cents from FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) for a meal. Plus we lose the potential donation for the meal," which is the amount, typically $2.50, that a senior pays when he or she eats at a senior center.
"So we need to cut more meals than you would think we would have to to get to where we break even."
VanNoy said some funding has remained stable.
Weber County's share of funding for senior programs has stayed the same. Senior centers are owned by the cities in which they are located, and he said no cities have cut their support either. Reduced state and federal funds, and increased costs, are causing the problem.
The cutbacks will hit every senior meal site in Weber and Morgan counties except for the Riverdale Senior Center.
Jeannette Hall, Riverdale's community services coordinator, said Riverdale City funds meals for its senior center on its own, using volunteers and a fixed city budget.
That does mean more seniors may come from other cities for meals, she said, which could increase her costs. Many do that now, so "we'll just wait and see how that goes."
VanNoy said cutting back Meals on Wheels is going to be hard.
The program provides home-delivered meals to 550 elderly shut-ins and disabled. That has to be cut back to 450, but he said nobody now getting the meals will be cut off.
A waiting list will be established until attrition brings the number down. "We typically turn over eight to 10 a week," he said, usually when someone dies or goes into a nursing home.
The cutbacks will also mean more unemployment. VanNoy said he will be losing between two and three full-time-equivalents, although the actual number of people might be more because not all his employees work full time.
Senior centers are dealing with having to cut back one meal a week in different ways. He said the North Ogden center is discussing brown baggers, and the Golden Hours Center is going to investigate the possibility of getting restaurants to donate meals.
"I think they're going to see how it goes," VanNoy said. "None of them are going immediately to jump in and make a scheduled weekly brown bagger day or pizza day, but rather say, 'We'll take this day and see how it goes to have a senior center without a lunch.' "
The South Ogden Senior Center is going to close on Friday and distribute that day's five hours to the other four days of the week.
South Ogden Senior Center Director Sheila Paden said about 30 seniors eat their meals there every day. Closing on Friday and extending center hours on other days seemed the best way to distribute the center's time so other activities could still take place, she said.
Paden said she is deeply concerned the cuts to senior nutrition will harm people's health. For many seniors, she said, the meal at the center is the one hot, balanced meal they get every day.
"As you know, the elderly don't always have good nutrition. One of the first choices they make is to sacrifice nutrition to have the medications they need."
In a period of rising drug costs and stagnant Social Security, the elderly have been making that choice more often. Cheap meals offer a safety net.
"I've been in this industry for seven years and unfortunately, what I've seen in the private sector is they will take these meals and stretch them into their whole day's meal," she said.