NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County officials say they may have figured out a way to offset the federal funding cuts to the county’s elderly nutrition program.
The county is slated to lose $40,000 a year because of the federal government’s sequestration cuts. County commissioners learned about the cuts last month when several seniors attended a commission meeting and asked the county to restore the funding. Commissioners told the administration to find the money — somewhere.
“We’ll be going back to the board Tuesday with several alternatives,” said Suzanne Salichs, assistant county administrator.
She said the county has identified possible funding sources to hold the program over for one year, but may seek grant funding or try to partner with a nonprofit organization in future years. One local company, Communication Concepts, pledged to donate $5,000 to help offset the cuts. Donations such as that go into the county’s third party account, which could be tapped for the first year.
If the funding isn’t fully restored, the program would have had to eliminate meal delivery to 15 homebound seniors and 40 diners at the program facility. “It would have impacted 14,251 meals,” Salichs said. “That’s a big number.”
The program serves more than 2,000 elderly and homebound seniors daily meals at eight locations throughout the county. The department relies heavily on volunteers and donations, but it still has a waiting list of 120 people.
“I go to sleep worrying about these seniors and where they’re going to get a meal,” Salichs said. “For me that’s hard — how we have seniors waiting on a list for the meal delivery. And it’s not just the food — it’s someone knocking on your door everyday and they give you a hug. And now we have the pet food delivery with Cindy’s Pets — that’s a companionship issue. So it’s much more than just here’s your meal.”
Another option would be to privatize the elderly nutrition program, Salichs wrote in a memo to the commissioners. “This would require a private entity to operate the program with the same high quality, quantity, and cost effective service currently being provided by the county,” she wrote.
Sheriff Chris Nocco suggested the county utilize a portion of the $200,000 his department recently returned to the board to fund elderly nutrition. In an e-mail to Commissioner Pat Mulieri, Nocco said the returned funds were a result of savings from the food services contract for the county jail.
“I humbly suggest you can take the $40,000 from the $200,000 to feed our seniors,” he wrote. “You are 100 percent correct, it is a worthy cause we should keep.”