Sen. Patrick Anderson sent Governor Brad Henry a letter Wednesday asking him to use the Governor's discretionary funds to help replace the cuts in funding to the state's senior nutrition programs. Due to recent revenue shortfalls, the Department of Human Services approved a $7.4 million cut to these programs, which will go into affect November 1.
"The Governor has several million dollars in discretionary funding from the federal stimulus package that could be used to fill the gaps in this program's budget, and I've asked the Governor to use a small portion of those funds to help shore up the Senior Nutrition Centers around the State until the Legislature can reconvene and address this issue," said Anderson, R-Enid. "I can't think of a better use for the Governor's discretionary money than to help ensure that our seniors don't have to go without a meal."
The Senator said that seniors in rural Oklahoma will suffer the most. In his letter, he explained how a program in his district, the Wheatheart Nutrition Project, has been forced to cut its budget by over $230,000. That amounts to a thirty-eight percent (38%) cut in the program's total budget.
The Wheatheart program provides daily meals to 970 seniors in Alfalfa, Grant, Kay, Garfield, Noble, Blaine, Kingfisher and Major Counties.* Due to the budget cut, though, they will be closing two kitchens and furloughing employees for 44 of the next 160 working days. In addition, they will no longer be serving meals at Senior Nutrition Centers on Fridays.
"This is only one example of what these budget cuts are doing to senior nutrition programs around the state. Many centers are looking at closing their doors all together, furloughing or even letting employees go; and rural Oklahoma will be hardest hit because seniors have no other alternatives to turn to like they may have in larger cities," said Anderson. "We must do what we can to keep these nutrition programs running and nutrition sites open."
Anderson said the importance of the programs is far-reaching.
"These programs provide more than just meals…they provide companionship, a sense of community and an opportunity to check on the welfare of many of our most vulnerable citizens. Furthermore, cutting these programs in the coming winter months could have devastating effects on our elderly population. So I hope the Governor will act quickly and direct the use of his discretionary funds to help protect our seniors from these program cuts."
*Wheatheart's nutrition sites are located in Billings, Blackwell, Cherokee, Enid, Garber, Helena, Kingfisher, Medford, Newkirk, Perry, Ponca City, Pond Creek, Ringwood, Tonkawa, Watonga and Waukomis.