Grantville steps up to cover meals for seniors
by W. Winston Skinner
Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. were still negotiating late Tuesday on when and how to reopen the federal government, but - in Grantville - the city has agreed to temporarily provide meals for senior citizens if the federal shutdown continues.
'They're talking. At least they're talking to each other,' Grantville City Manager Johnny Williams said at Monday's Grantville City Council meeting, talking about the federal officials. Grantville's leaders did more than talk on Monday.
Susan Burdett, director of the Grantville Senior Citizens Center, approached the council Monday and asked it to provide backup funding in case the federal government shutdown should linger past Nov. 14. Even though they are not certain where they would get the funds, the council approved funding for three weeks of meals - with a possibility of an extension.
Council members Selma Coty and Rochelle Jabaley expressed support but also asked where the city would pull the $900 per week from an already tight budget.
Williams was frank that he did not immediately know where the money would be found.
'I feel confident we could find this,' Willliams said. 'This is a vital program. We must find it.'
'Non-essential' federal offices have been closed and workers furloughed since Oct. 1. Officials in Washington indicated Tuesday they might be a bit closer to an agreement to fund the government with the federal government also scheduled to reach a debt ceiling on Thursday.
Southern Crescent Area Agency on Aging, which provides funds for meals at the Grantville Center, required Burdett to notify all center clients and Meals On Wheels clients in Grantville about the potential loss of meal services.
The notice stated that 30 days from Oct. 15, the meal service would cease because of 'lack of federal funding, including Older Americans Act funding.' The notice also stated, 'If federal funding starts again before Nov. 14, 2013, your services will not stop' and added that if services stop and funding becomes available, clients will again be contacted by Southern Crescent.
Burdett, who has been the center director for more than 16 years, asked the council to 'give us an opportunity to at least try to keep our doors open.' Her voice was fragile with emotion at times as the talked about the situation.
'The service has been here for many years. There are a lot of elderly people who are depending on this,' Burdett said. 'This is life and death to a lot them.'
She said some of the seniors do not understand what the Southern Crescent notices mean and are having a hard time just coping with the process. Delivering the news is difficult for 'someone who's been in this position as long as I have,' she ref lected. 'I know these people so well … The devastation to the clients is worse than the amount of money.'
Burdett said if the city would help that she would work at trimming food costs. 'I've never been frivolous with the money I've been given,' she said.
She said there will be a limit on 'the number of people who can come to our program,' and there likely would e a waiting list for new people seeking meal delivery or wishing to come to the center.
Federal transportation dollars will also dry up Nov. 6 if the shutdown continues. Burdett said the Grantville center is fortunate to have a van and someone who can drive it, so the transportation facet would not immediately disappear.
'The meals that are delivered will stop if the government is still in the current shutdown situation,' Mayor Jim Sells summarized. 'They need a little security. I'm asking the council to give them a little support.'
Burdett initially asked the city to consider funding eight weeks of meals at $900 per week. 'These people worry. This is a lifeline for them. We need to give them an answer tonight,' Sells said.
Councilman Johnny Cooks asked if the council would be reimbursed for any expenses when the federal government if fully funded again. 'There's no way to know that. It's conceivable but probably not likely,' City Attorney Mark Mitchell stated.
He noted some state governments - among them Arizona and New York - are funding federal parks during the shutdown, without knowing if they will be reimbursed. 'It would all be contingent on whatever deal's worked out,' Mitchell added.
'I hope this never comes to pass,' Burdett said. In any case, she said the council's vote is important for the seniors 'to know that they are important and that they matter.'
Sells is hoping for an early resolution of the federal budget deadlock. 'We all hope it will be this week, not to mention a month from now,' he said.