County adjusts for rising senior center costs

Expenditures for the senior citizen centers in Ector County are exceeding budget allotments.
Senior citizens point to the facilities as vital resources in the community and say more funding is needed to support nutrition programs and activities for older residents. Ector County Senior Center Director Donna Greaves recently requested an additional $44,264 to make up for funds in the current budget cycle falling short of the amount needed to continue operations like providing congregate meals.
The congregate meal program offers a daily lunch option at senior centers and is the main source of nutrition and food security for many over the age of 60 in Ector County.
The program is funded in part by the Area Agency on Aging of the Permian Basin.
The meals served must meet set nutritional requirements and comply with the most recent dietary guidelines for Americans, published jointly by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.
Greaves said seniors are asked to give a suggested contribution of $3 to defray the cost of the meals but many find the price to be too steep.
“The largest percentage of our seniors are 70 and older and when you get up in your 80s a lot of those seniors’ social security is nothing, literally they’re living on $500 a month or even less,” Greaves said. “We have some that can only pay $2 and some that can’t pay anything.”
She said there are plenty of senior citizens that are working part-time or full-time jobs out of necessity to afford needed medicines, utilities, property taxes and food.
Wanda Moon has both volunteered for and utilized the senior center over the course of the last three decades and said for some the senior center meal is their only nourishment for the day.
“This is a main meal,” she said. “If you have this, then you can try to do without the other two meals and not have to really hurt your budget too much.”
Moon said the congregate meal program fulfills both nutritional and social needs for senior citizens.
Sitting across the table from Moon was Jo Alexander who visits the north side senior center about twice a week and said the meals are at the heart of what brings people through the door. She said if something were to happen to the nutrition program that would negatively impact those served, “the center would more or less die.”
Greaves said low contributions affect the county department’s ability to negate accrued expenses for the 250 days a year the centers are required to serve meals.
“We cannot tell them they have to pay,” she said. “We have homeless people that come to our facilities and that’s probably their only decent meal they get that day, so funding is important.”
Jennie Fowler brought her own lunch to the north side center Tuesday in order to fellowship with others. She said the center’s attendance has suffered since suggested congregate meal prices were raised from $2 while others pointed to a lack of ongoing recruitment.
The lower number of people served has a direct correlation to the amount of funding the centers receive from the state.
Greaves said a charitable trust fund given to the county following a resident’s death helped to fill in funding gaps for years, but it was fully depleted during this budget cycle.
Ector County Commissioners approved the budget amendment to the general fund and Randy Donner, who will step in as the new Ector County auditor this month, said he anticipates funding for the senior centers will need to be adjusted for next year to accommodate no longer being able to rely on the donated money.
“Most of our funding, about 60 percent, goes to our congregate meal program,” Greaves said. “We want to be able to make sure they have at least one nutritious meal a day.”