Featured Stories


Federal funding cuts eat into senior meal programs

by: PHOTO: MERRY MACKINNON - Fook Lok Hollywood Center Manager Mary Gagnon runs one of the 35 Meals On Wheels People (originally known as Loaves and Fishes) sites located in Multnomah, Washington and Clark Counties. The nonprofit Meals On Wheels People lost $80,000 for the last fiscal year and could lose another $100,000 this year due to federal sequestration budget cuts.

Almost 36,000 fewer meals: That’s the loss from federal sequestration budget cuts to Clackamas County’s Senior Meal Program for its 2013-14 fiscal year, according to Director of Clackamas County Social Services Brenda Durbin.

At the same time, the nonprofit provider of Meals On Wheels and senior midday meals at 35 sites in Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties also lost federal funding — $80,000 for 2012-13 and potentially another $100,000 for 2013-14.

But Julie Piper Finley, Meals On Wheels People communication director, said her organization expects to hold the line and — between its home-delivered and on-site meals — still serve 5,000 meals a day, even while experiencing an increase in younger seniors, those in their 60s, showing up for lunch.

Meals On Wheels People can do that because Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties filled a large part of that budget gap created by sequestration cuts, leaving the senior meal program with just a $28,000 shortfall. That amount has been covered by donations from high net-worth individuals and corporate donors, Finley said.

“We don’t rely strictly on government programs,” Finley said, adding that 35 percent of the program’s budget comes from federal funding. “We have stepped up our private funding.”

Still, federal sequestration has created a lot of uncertainty for Meals On Wheels People and other senior service providers that rely on federal funds for a portion of their budgets.

“Our 2013 to 2014 fiscal year federal funding is still up in the air,” Finley said. “Because of sequestration, we could lose $100,000. But we don’t know for sure.”

Managers at each of the 35 Meals On Wheels People sites also must turn to private donations to meet fundraising goals to help pay for their individual operations.

“And they’ve been really great this last year,” Finley said.

In her office across from the kitchen and dining room in the basement of Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, Mary Gagnon, manager of the Fook Lok Hollywood Meals on Wheels People Center, said she tries to plan a fundraising event each month to cover an ever-shrinking budget.

On weekdays at Fook Lok Center, between 35 to 70 seniors gather for free or reduced-cost lunches. “For seven years we’ve been consistently losing funding year to year,” Gagnon said.

Nearby, at the Hollywood Senior Center, which operates separately from Meals On Wheels People, Executive Director Amber Kern Johnson has also been confronted with cuts, particularly in senior programs such as family caregiver support and case management. Not only did federal cuts threaten to reduce the level of service at her center, city of Portland reductions loomed large as well.

Public funding sources for Hollywood Senior Center include 28 percent from state, 20 percent from federal, 7 percent from Portland and 45 percent from Multnomah County. The rest is made up through private donations, fundraising, foundations and endowments.

“We still have to look for supplemental sources,” Johnson added.

Luckily, she said, Multnomah County back-filled a large part of the city cuts and also helped with the federal cuts.

“We’re thankful Multnomah County reached an agreement,” Johnson said. “But we’re very concerned about the next fiscal year, when we will see the major impact of these cuts if the federal budget issues are not resolved.”