Plans to cut funding for the Congregate Meals programs in Havelock and Harlowe are proposed. We’ll explain how the decision was reached and explore a possible solution.
Two underserved areas may be facing a future without free meals for local seniors. The Congregate Meals program provides food for low income seniors in Havelock and Harlowe. Those supporting the budgeting moves say the program is currently too inclusive and cited that such cuts are not unprecedented. Opponents argue the meals are an important part of senior’s lives and that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Some have stepped forward to say the proposed cuts to the Congregate Meals program favor one part of the county over the other. This week, Lee Jenkins spoke with Commissioner Scott Dacey with the City of Havelock about the program.
So, what exactly is the congregate meals program?
“Essentially a meals program that is provided to three centers that are run directly by craven county and then a fourth facility that is run by the city of Havelock and between those four centers we’ve been able to accommodate meals to several dozen people throughout the county on a daily basis, Monday through Friday.”
So, in order to participate in the program, seniors have to meet at least one of six criteria, and the first four consist of entering into adult protective services, being at risk of abuse or neglect, being impaired in activities of daily living, and being extensively impaired of activities of daily living.
“So, typically what we’re talking about here are folks that have really got some challenges just getting through life. The last two criteria, those that would no longer be eligible for the meals program, include older adults with less extensive disabilities and impairments and then anybody who’s a well adult just simply over the age of sixty. So, what we had to look to here, and what was the recommendation from the Aging and Planning board to the Board of Commissioners, is that we just continue to serve the needs of those people that are in the most desperate condition. Those people that are just sixty years of age or older may be able to get meals on their own, they may be able to seek out alternatives, they, in all likelihood, have got transportation on their own and they could find additional places to find the meals. But the people that are really having a hard time taking care of themselves, we felt needed to be of the first priority.”
And of the reported 38 seniors who participate in the Havelock and Harlowe programs, how many would meet those new criteria?
“Well, I think we should look at the overall number here. There are approximately 210 to 220 individuals that would’ve met the six criteria that I’ve outlined. Of those 210-220 in the Havelock-Harlowe area, only about 12 would meet the new criteria. So, it really does narrow things down quite a bit.”
And those twelve will receive transportation by CART to the George Street or Vanceboro Centers, which still offer the program. About the funding for the program: the county only pays a portion of it, correct?
“The funding itself for these programs either come through federal or state resources. And in the county, taxpayers have been assisting through a ten percent match.”
How much funding does Harlowe and Havelock receive?
“Í think around fifty thousand dollars goes to those two programs in total, with about 3-5 thousand coming from the county directly. So, while it’s not an incredibly huge amount of money relative to the size of the program overall, the block grant is about nearly 600000 dollars. This, again, is not targeted towards the facilities themselves, but rather who meets the basic needs within the county.
And so you get the cuts, which require this new criteria.
“And this was a recommendation from the aging and planning board which is made up of community leaders throughout Craven County and the area and they represent various associations, including AARP and a number of other groups. They are the professionals that truly understand what the needs of the community are, and they came forward with the recommendation to the County board of Commissioners and then we had to make the decision whether or not to accept it or reject it.”
You have proposed using community organizations to fill the need. Are there any organizations that are willing and able to step up to the plate in that regard?
Well, I have to believe that there are. We’ve got organization like RCS, Religious Community Services, that are very active in the community; there are a number of church operations in Havelock and Harlowe that we’re going to reach out to, the staff has already begun doing so. I’ve talked with members that serve on the aging and planning board and they are already pulling together lists of community based organizations that might be available to assist these individuals that have been using the meals program. The priority had to be those folks that just simply can’t take care of themselves. When you read newspaper articles about individuals that are driving from New Bern to get down to Havelock in order to take advantage of this meals program, I mean they’re almost spending as much money on the gasoline to get down there as the meal itself costs. And while I appreciate the community nature and the desire to interact with other people of your age or your background, I’m not really certain it’s something the taxpayers can afford to pay for.”
Another part of the issue people have with these cuts is that they feel the eastern end of the county is being unfairly targeted. Do you feel that such concerns are valid?
“While I understand the concerns, I would just ask that people understand the way the program itself works. It’s not something that’s allocated towards geographical locations within the county itself, but rather based upon need, and as it turns out, those pockets of need happened to be more in line with where things are in New Bern or Vanceboro than they are in Havelock or Harlowe. I guess I’d have to say that I’m pleased to note that the economy and the financial condition of the families in the Havelock and Harlowe area seems to be a little bit better than it is in the rest of the county and therefore there need simply isn’t as great.”
Are there any alternatives to outright cutting the funding to the program?
“Well, I guess the solution would be that if the city of Havelock itself wanted to step up and continue funding the program directly they’d be welcome to do so. They’ve been very good about making certain that facilities are available for those that are using the program. So, if those communities wanted to continue the program they could step up and do so and the county board of commissioners could, theoretically, continue to make available that ten percent allocation to support the program from its match perspective. That has not been an alternative that the folks from Havelock or Harlowe have come to the county board yet.
How soon do you think a decision could be made on the meals services for Harlowe and Havelock?
“The County Board of Commissioners did take comments from the public at our meeting on June the 3rd; we will be meeting again on June the 17th in order to pass the budget in its final form. So, I would imagine that we will complete deliberations on our budget on June 17th and that it would go into effect around the first of July.”
And what do you think will ultimately be decided upon?
“I have not been provided with any additional data that suggests that the numbers that were provided to us from Havelock or Harlowe were incorrect and as such I would not be willing to step back from the decision that has already been made. However, if that data is incorrect and somebody can demonstrate to us that there are certainly more people that are in need that would fit those communities then we’ll have to take a look at it, or if there’s some other alternative that’s developed by the local communities themselves then we’re happy to take a look at it.”
Alright, thank you, Mr. Dacey, for shedding some light on this issue and thank you for your time.
“Thank you, sir.”