Most of us have just completed another holiday season, enjoying friends, family, festivals, and vacations. But for too many elderly people there was little to celebrate, as they were unable to rest on an empty stomach. And unless Congress takes action in early 2024, this hardship will continue.
Currently, 12 million seniors worry about having enough food, one in three meal-on-drive programs is on a waiting list, and seniors are on average missing important meals. I've been waiting for 3 months. Funding levels have not kept pace with inflation and the increasing demands of a growing elderly population. Congress must begin to address hunger among older adults by recognizing the value of Older Adults Act (OAA) nutrition programs. The most well-known example is dining on wheels. These community-based programs provide life-saving services to older adults across the country, and the best way to support them is to fully fund OAA.
For more than 50 years, OAA nutrition programs have been the benchmark for successful public-private partnerships that positively impact the critical social drivers of health: proper nutrition and social connectedness. These programs are improving the lives of millions of seniors, allowing them to remain in the comfort of their own homes and independent of much more expensive medical settings. These programs are investments in health promotion and chronic disease management. These are investments in reducing social isolation and loneliness, as well as investments in lowering health care costs. You can provide a year's worth of home-delivered meals for about the same cost as 10 days at a nursing home or 1 day at the hospital, saving taxpayers money on Medicare and Medicaid.
Congress is building on the value of these programs during the pandemic by passing four emergency bills that nearly double federal funding to quickly address problems that existed before COVID-19 worsened. I recognized it. New data expected to be released by the Administration for Community Living, the federal agency that administers the Older Americans Act, demonstrates that pandemic funding has dramatically increased the number of seniors receiving services. Dew. Even now, the number of seniors benefiting from programs like Meals on Wheels remains well above pre-pandemic levels. But emergency funds have been depleted and programs are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. In a recent survey, 97% of responding senior nutrition programs reported needing increased funding to keep pace with inflation.
In reality, declining funding levels during the pandemic are leading to the hunger cliff. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Our organization is asking Congress for $1.284 billion in federal funding for OAA nutrition programs. We also urge the President to include OAA nutrition programs in his request for additional funding. These critical programs and the seniors they serve, like other national programs, face a serious emergency.
It's rare to have the opportunity to invest in a program that has stood the test of time and continues to deliver on its original promise. That's why we make this appeal on behalf of the millions of older people who rely on food as a lifeline to prevent hunger and malnutrition. It's time for senior hungry people to take a vacation.
Ellie Hollander is President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. Bob Brancato is executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs.
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