Senior Nutrition Services in the Community
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Senior Nutrition Services in the Community

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January 9, 2012

By Marietta Bobba, NISC Public Policy Committee

In discussions about the upcoming reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), one area spurring a great deal of conversation is the funding of nutrition programs.

In a recent NCOA/NISC survey of senior centers, over 75% of respondents spoke to what’s currently happening in their own centers regarding meal programs.

Various national organizations have weighed in, both pro and con, on combining congregate and home-delivered meal monies, so states and local areas can decide how to prioritize how dollars are spent. As you can imagine, concerns about the impact of changing formulas and guidelines for decision-making has caused some apprehension about the stability of existing community programs.

Last year, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO) released a Consensus Document containing a number of proposals for OAA reauthorization that had been negotiated and agreed to by more than 60 national aging services advocates. NCOA helped lead the effort to develop this consensus. Recommendations include: 

  • Enhance the current flexibility in the allocation of Senior Nutrition Program funding in local communities while preserving the integrity of the separate congregate and home-delivered meal programs. (p. 10)

  • Clarify the importance of the AAA’s responsibility to seek information, input, and expertise from community-based organizations serving older adults, other service providers under the Act, independent experts, and other advocates in the planning and service area when developing the area plan, particularly as it pertains to determining community needs, identifying pressing issues, and proposing solutions. The process by which this input is solicited and considered should be as transparent as possible. (p. 8)

What senior centers are saying

In the recent NCOA/NISC survey of senior centers, here's what respondents said they're seeing as a result of their own meal programs:

  • Decreased isolation, improved fellowship, and better nutrition through the opportunities provided by locally based community meal service programs.
  • Increased need, senior participation, and food costs as the result of a more difficult economic climate in the country, as well as increased use of food banks/pantries by seniors.
  • A move toward modernizing the dining experience with salad bars or side salads at each location, iced tea, breakfast sandwiches, morning snacks, and other opportunities to decrease isolation and update the experience.

Other respondents offered to provide years of documented surveys supporting the value of senior center meal programs. Yet, some said they no longer participate in the program because of outdated requirements and difficulty on the local level with program contracting and administration.

In upcoming months, there will be more discussion concerning meal programs and funding. If you're interested in being a voice in that discussion, please email Maureen Arsenault, NISC coordinator, at Maureen.Arsenault@ncoa.org.

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