By Karen Jones Cody
When Eva Huff talks about the senior citizens who are suffering the effects of the county’s reduction in funding, her eyes fill with tears.
Huff has been the director of Knott County’s Human Services Center and Senior Citizens Program for 14 years. Knott’s program for seniors was recognized as one of the best in the state. However, since the county first began to deal with financial difficulties in 2009, a series of cutbacks have chipped away at the services available for senior citizens.
The recent adjustments to balance the budget had a crushing impact on the program. Magistrates’ directive to confine cuts to the LGEA fund narrowed the choices of where cuts could be made – and the county’s contribution to the senior program comes from LGEA.
“We lost three employees and $25,000 from our food budget,” Huff told the Times. “We were delivering meals to 105 seniors. Right now, we are down to 19.”
The county has a contract to provide services to seniors with state and federal funding, Huff explained, but home delivery of meals has always required funding beyond the amount budgeted by those sources.
“Our local court wanted to expand the senior citizens program in 1999, and they provided enough extra funding that we were delivering around 200 meals every day,” Huff recalled. When less and less funding became available to the program, she said their first solution was to reduce the number of deliveries by not adding new clients to replace those who moved away, transitioned into nursing homes or passed away.
When this reduction was not enough, they devised a plan where half the clients received meals three days a week while the other half got meals on two days – and the two groups were alternated each week. At one point when several employees were laid off, volunteers from other departments in county government pushed their work aside and made time to help deliver meals.
Huff described the process put in motion by the most recent cut to the program. “In order to fulfill our contract with state and federal sources, we had to go back to square one. They gave me a list of clients at highest risk, and those 19 people are approved for home-delivered meals. I’m trying to get another 19 approved so we can go back to an alternating schedule and at least serve that many people. That would be better than nothing.”
The program continues to serve meals at the Human Services Center Monday through Thursday. “People who have been coming there are confused. Many have asked if we could provide more home-delivered meals if they stop coming to the center. The answer is no; it is separate funding, and if we don’t use the money set aside for meals in the center for that purpose, it will just go back to the funding source.”
Huff pointed out that lunch at the center is about much more than food – it’s about keeping seniors active. “We have activities and everyone enjoys visiting with friends and neighbors.”
The same is true of the meal delivery program. The driver becomes a part of his or her client’s world – a friendly face and a comforting presence. In some cases, these drivers have provided valuable support by helping a sick client call family members or an ambulance.
Huff said the home-delivered meal service is the most expensive part of the program because it involves not only preparing the food, but also packaging it, plus the cost of fuel and personnel to deliver. Some people have asked about the possibility of donating funds to the program or sponsoring a particular senior citizen. Huff said that any money donated would go to the county’s general fund. “People can donate things to the program – if someone wanted to buy something like a flat screen TV for the center, that would be allowed. But money would go into the general fund.”
Some people have also asked how it was possible that repairs and upgrades were recently done at the center with the county in such poor financial condition. Huff explained this work was done with grant money, which could not be used for anything else.
“Most counties will do whatever they must to support their senior citizens. All counties are struggling – but I heard recently that Letcher County just put $50,000 into their senior program.” Huff said. “I think it’s a shame that this part of our population, these people who have worked and contributed to society all their lives, are now losing their services. I think the mistake here is that magistrates stated in meetings they didn’t want to cut the program – but they aren’t really even familiar with it. Mark Chaffins from District Three is the only one who has visited us. Then when it was all said and done, it was said that the budget was balanced on the backs of the seniors.”
Huff said they are considering one possibility for a fundraiser – operating a “General Store” at the horse trail ride. “We think it would be useful for guests there as well as generate money for our program,” she said. Citizens are welcome to donate items that the center could sell in the general store – and the staff has composed a long list of possibilities. “We hope to offer things like paper products, snacks, camping items – anyone who would like more information can contact us at the center.”
The senior citizens program continues to provide daily activities as much as possible. They have plans for one of their favorite outings in a couple of weeks – an Easter egg hunt and picnic at the ATV center. Huff said another much-anticipated activity would begin in April; the Senior Games, in which senior citizens in all counties of the KRADD district compete in everything from pool and horseshoes to Rook. This series of competitions ends with a huge celebration at the Sportsplex on May 16.
The staff of the senior citizens program welcomes anyone eligible to visit the center for lunch on Monday through Thursday. Eva Huff advises that participation is not based on income, it is open to anyone age 60 or older and their spouses. She also suggests that anyone who would like to express their support of the program should attend a fiscal court meeting or contact the magistrate in their home district.
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