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Sequestration affects everyone, including hungry seniors

100,000 senior meals to be cut in county, 4 million nationwide

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Sequestration is now officially the law of the land, thanks to Congress approving a continuing resolution – that includes the “fiscal cliff” cuts – to fund the federal government through Sept. 30. What does it mean? Simple. Partisanship on both sides trumps doing what is best for the American people and, as a result, millions will suffer.

Let me ask you a question. If I said you had to cut your household budget by 8 percent, would you blindly cut all of your expenses across the board, regardless of importance? Of course not. You would prioritize expenditures, which would be good news for your mortgage lender, landlord and the local supermarket. But this is precisely what the government did through sequestration. Slash-and-burn cuts were enacted with no relevance to importance or whether the investment of tax dollars actually saves money.

Sequestration will cut off more than 750,000 mothers and their infants who rely on WIC for nutrition; more than 100,000 children will lose the chance to early childhood education through Head Start; some national parks and wildlife refuges will close, ending visitor programs on these and other public lands; and our fledgling K-12 school system is expected to lose more than 40,000 teachers. These are just a few examples of what sequestration will do.

For the low-income seniors we serve at Senior Community Centers, sequestration means a cut of 32,000 meals in the coming year. Throughout San Diego County, the number of meals cut will be close to 100,000; nationally, the number is closer to 4 million. Where is the outrage and hyperbole from our elected officials over hungry seniors? What about all the other vulnerable Americans hurt by this self-induced fiscal cliff and its devastating consequences?

Cutting senior nutrition makes no sense when there is proof that it actually saves tax dollars. There is much evidence that feeding seniors nutritionally balanced meals keeps them healthy, independent and significantly reduces health care costs. Cutting meals is penny-wise, pound-foolish – something Washington excels at.

Let me introduce you to Carol, a former teacher who raised four children as a single mom. Until the recession in 2008, Carol owned a successful education-related IT consulting company with offices in five states. The recession hit her hard, and Carol found herself homeless. She lived in her car with her disabled adult daughter in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Carol received some assistance to move into an affordable housing complex, but shortly after she took a nasty fall and broke both her shoulders. After recovering for three months in a nursing facility, Carol was released to go home, but she was still unable to do basic tasks like shower or cook. She contacted Senior Community Centers’ Home-Delivered Meals Program, which resulted in a warm and healthy meal delivered to her the very next day.

The continuous visits of our delivery drivers and social workers caused a chain reaction on Carol’s floor: Other residents came by to ask how they could help. Carol also lost 45 pounds with our nutritionally balanced meals and was more energetic. Today, Carol has healed and is healthy – and confident to face life once again. Without our meals and other assistance, Carol would have very likely ended up back in the hospital or living out her life in a skilled nursing facility. Her quality of life would have been poor and the expenses to Medicare and possibly Medi-Cal would have been significant. Carol’s story isn’t anything new. We come across stories like hers daily – everyday people living the American dream, and then losing it all from an unfortunate accident, decision or, in Carol’s case, the recession.

Seeing how far Carol has come reinforces why senior nutrition is important and saves taxpayers money. As it is, low-income seniors struggle every day. Why do these people need to be hungry because our politicians can’t compromise?

Sequestration is a truly unfortunate situation. Regardless of what party you are aligned with, we can all agree we are disgusted with our elected officials. It is time for them to step up and make difficult decisions for the greater good, not just for their political careers. As Americans, we need to put pressure on them to do better.

How can you help? Reach out to our congressional delegation and U.S. senators: Call, write, email, tweet or post to their Facebook pages. Ask them to support senior nutrition when they are planning the 2014 budget. Your voice and actions will make all the difference to lend a hand and a heart to seniors who deserve dignity and respect. Send your member of Congress an urgent note today.

Paul Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to keeping San Diego seniors healthy and independent. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.

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