Federal Budget Issues Could Force Cutbacks at "Meals on Wheels"

February 19, 2013 Updated Feb 19, 2013 at 8:00 PM EDT

By Ed Reilly

February 19, 2013 Updated Feb 19, 2013 at 8:00 PM EDT

Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW) The clock is ticking down to March 1st when a federal budget sequester will automatically force $85-billion dollars in across-the-board budget cuts.

Those cuts will impact many public services including nutrition programs for seniors.

It is now up to Congress to come up with a balanced debt reduction plan, but disagreements between the White House and Republicans make it seem unlikely that a plan will be agreed to in time.

In Erie County, federal funding for Meals on Wheels comes from "The Older American Act" that provides about $100,000 annually for home delivery and congregate meal programs available at senior centers.

"If this goes through, it will take away 36,000 meals per year {in Erie County}," added Tara Ellis, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels for Western New York.

Six thousand hot and cold meals are prepared by Erie County Meals on Wheels every day.

Most of the meals are hand-delivered by volunteers and employees to seniors still living at home.

Besides providing proper nutrition for seniors, the program also enables senior citizens to continue to live at home.

"This is the population that are very much at risk for nursing home care if they are unable to have a social, safety, well-being check as well as the daily nutrition," added Tara Ellis.

The Meals on Wheels program cost roughly $2,500 per year for a senior, compared to nursing home care which cost about $100,000 per year.

"This is one of the reasons that we feel this would be a very penny-wise and pound-foolish type of cut," commented Ellis