Geraldine Roper fears the federal shutdown could reach all the way to her kitchen table.
Roper, a 79-year-old retiree, has received a daily lunch through the Meals on Wheels program for the last three years.
Now, she wonders if those meals will stop.
“It would cripple me,” said Roper, who has diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “I can’t afford to go to the grocery store and buy the things I need to eat.”
Providers say the meals will keep coming — for now.
“We haven’t seen any immediate impact,” said Phillippa Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center. “However, a prolonged shutdown — two or three weeks — would result in a reduction or temporary elimination. It could be devastating.”
She said her office has fielded questions from seniors about how services, from meals to transportation to senior centers, may be affected.
“Every little thing that happens in Congress makes our jobs more difficult,” said Moss.
Even before the government shutdown, the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center had been squeezed: Some of its programs lost between 5 and 15 percent of their funding when across-the-board federal spending cuts occurred in the spring.
The agency provides about 250 lunches daily to Meals on Wheels clients and some 70 meals to senior center clients. It has a waiting list of 50 people.
Funding for meals programs has been identified through Oct. 15, said Ravae Graham, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Human Services. “We’re monitoring everything.”
For most people this is the only meal they’re eating a day, said Debra Furtado, CEO of Senior Connections, a Chamblee-based nonprofit that provides home and community-based services, including meals, to seniors. It provides home-delivered meals to about 3,000 seniors in several counties, including DeKalb. “If it continues past October, we will then start cutting meals.
On its website, Senior Connections urges people to contact Congress to “Keep Meals on Wheels on the Roads.”
She said providers have been asked to come up with a backup game plan. “It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in my career,” she said. “I don’t want to be the person who decides, quite frankly, who eats and who doesn’t.”
Kathryn Lawler, manager of the aging and health resources division at Atlanta Regional Commission, said there were no immediate plans to stop meals programs, including Meals on Wheels, in the 10-county metro region that it serves.
Because some of the funding comes from the Older Americans Act, agencies are required to give clients 30-day notice of any planned changes.
The shutdown has forced a “day-to-day analysis.” Lawler said there was no reason for ARC partners to cut services now because the region had a diversified funding stream, so they don’t rely solely on federal funds. She said that may not be the case outside the region.
The situation is “very, very serious,” Lawler said. If the shutdown is prolonged “we’ll have to figure out how to keep those meals coming every day.” It may require churches and community groups increasing efforts to help seniors.
Roper is just ready for it to end.
“I think this shutdown is ridiculous stuff,” she said.