If the U.S. Congress does not pass a budget by December, meals delivered to approximately 140 home-bound western Nevada County seniors will be in jeopardy, said Sandy “Jake” Jacobson, executive director of Gold Country Community Center.
Jacobson, speaking before a federal employees association at a Thursday luncheon, called on attendees to write their elected official, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), and voice their concerns.
“We are directly affected by the shutdown,” Jacobson said. “We’ve been asked by the state to not take on any more clients.”
Among other services, Gold Country provides cut firewood for heating and a Senior Nutrition Program, the largest component of which is the Meals on Wheels program. For approximately $20,000 per month, the organization provided around 28,600 meals in 2012.
“We can continue to operate until Dec. 1. But come Dec. 1, changes will have to be made,” Jacobson said. “It is not that we would close our doors, but we would have to modify.”
Nearly 23 percent of Nevada County’s estimated 98,300 residents are older than 65, Jacobson said. The majority of the Meals on Wheels recipients are older than 80, widowed and low income.
“These people can’t do it. They can’t do it for a day if we fail to deliver,” Jacobson said, fighting back tears. “And that bothers me a lot.”
On top of local funding sources, much of Gold Country’s funding for the nutrition program is allocated through the Older American Act, which funnels finances through the state’s Department of Aging. When the federal government shut down its operations at the end of September, Gold Country Community Center’s contract ended without renewal, Jacobson said.
“On Sept. 30, we lost our contract. We are under no obligation to serve meals,” Jacobson said, noting Gold Country would continue to provide the meals program using their own funds. After the Dec. 1, she said operations will continue, though without the federal funding, it would have to be pared down.
“There are no guarantees that we will get reimbursed. What we do right now is on our own dime,” Jacobson said, joking that a client will know when the situation is bad when they start getting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of whole meals.
“I hate promoting a service I’m not sure how I’m going to fund,” Jacobson said. “Our clients shouldn’t have to worry about their meals.”
There are other implications to Gold Country’s funding dilemma.
The organization is currently housed, free of rent or utilities, at the Nevada City Senior Apartments on Old Tunnel Road in Grass Valley. One of the condition of that location is that Gold Country provide meals to the facility’s residents, Jacobson said.
Gold Country also provides meals to Head Start, a child development center, in exchange for funding, Jacobson said, and losing federal funding could jeopardize both arrangements.
Additionally, a three-year, $147,000 Community Development Block Grant, that is expected to start in January, was poised to expand Meals on Wheels to as many as 46,000 in 2013, Jacobson said. However, she also said those funds may instead have to cover the gap created by the government shutdown.
During her talk Thursday before the Nevada County branch of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Jacobson read aloud her letter to LaMalfa that she had already submitted.
“I dislike being told who I should or should not feed when I am using agency reserves and donations from private individuals,” she said, before encouraging others to contact the Congressman.
Wrangling in the Capitol
President Barack Obama met with congressional Republicans Thursday in what national media outlets were touting as the first positive development in a budget battle that has shutdown the majority of the U.S. government for nearly two weeks.
While no deals were reached as of press time Thursday, lawmakers in those White House meetings described the sit-down as productive. The talks come as the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the nation’s debt limit draws near.
The up-and-down day also featured a dour warning from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who told lawmakers that the prospect of default had already caused interest rates to rise — and that worse lay ahead.
Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Lew said the Treasury must pay Social Security and veterans benefits as well as salaries to active duty military troops during the second half of this month.
He said failure to raise the debt limit by Oct. 17 “could put timely payment of all of these at risk.”
Whatever the outcome, it seemed the endgame was at hand in a pair of crises that had bedeviled divided government for two weeks, rattled markets in the U.S. and overseas and locked 350,000 furloughed federal workers out of their jobs.
The Associated Press’ David Espo contributed to the report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.