Hundreds of local senior adults no longer would receive meals through a state program if budget cuts proposed by Gov. Mark Sanford become reality.
Nearly 150 York County senior adults received meals last year thanks to $2.9 million provided by the state. But when that money runs out in June, 5,500 seniors statewide -- including 305 in York, Chester and Lancaster counties -- could lose those meals.
Sanford's proposed budget doesn't include funding for that statewide program, which provides more low-income seniors with meals at senior centers and through the Meals on Wheels program, said John Legare, public information officer for Lt. Governor André Bauer's Office on Aging.
"We are trying to encourage them to make it a recurring fund," Legare said. "When this money runs out, 5,500-plus seniors won't get meals anymore."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The program is operating on $2.9 million in one-time funds. Last year, roughly $70,000 of it came to York County, which is among the top 10 counties in the state in population of low-income seniors, Legare said.
As a Fort Mill senior and an activist, Myrna Hamilton is working to ensure area seniors are cared for.
"This funding is important for seniors," she said. "It literally means life or death for some of them. We go to bat for them."
Hamilton was appointed to the Silver Haired Legislature, a program set up by the Office on Aging to get seniors involved in issues and policies that affect them.
For about $500 a year, the state has helped many seniors stay healthy and at home, not in assisted living or a hospital where an overnight stay for someone older than 65 averages more than $20,000, Legare said.
"If we can keep seniors living at home and healthy, it will benefit everyone," he said.
There are 6,000 seniors on the waiting list for Meals on Wheels in addition to the ones who were helped last year, Hamilton said. If the program is funded again this year, she said maybe a third of those on the list will make it to the program.
But finding the $2.9 million for seniors again may be hard with a budget that started more than $300 million in the red.
But the Silver Haired Legislature is organizing a letter-writing campaign to encourage legislators to fund the program. Seniors at centers across the state began writing small notes on paper plates which were sent to Columbia, Hamilton said.
"One lady wrote 10 of them," Hamilton said. "Another lady wrote, 'Feed me. This is the only meal I get. I can't afford groceries.'"
The funding for the meals program does not affect any of the other services the Office on Aging offers, which includes Medicare counseling, in-home care workers, health and wellness programs, investigators to look into claims of senior abuse and other services.