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For the second year in a row seniors are not a priority for a majority of San Diego City council members.
They are recommending that only 4 percent ($450,000 out of $11,361,172) of all Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds go to programs for seniors — and none for critically needed nutritious meals provided by Senior Community Centers. Carl DeMaio was the lone council member to champion this important cause.
Last year was no different, with only 4.4 percent of the funds going to seniors and the council completely cut nutrition funding for low-income seniors — funding that we had received and counted on for more than a decade.
The math doesn’t add up. Apparently, city council members have forgotten that that 17 percent of San Diego’s population is senior citizens. Did they also forget that seniors represent the fastest growing demographic in our county? The number of seniors depending on the services of non-profit organizations like Senior Community Centers is growing exponentially — yet we’re not receiving our fair share to ensure San Diego seniors get their basic needs met. The U.S. Elder Economic Security Index shows 40 percent of all seniors who reside in the city lack adequate income to provide for basic needs, including food.
This Thursday, March 10, a large contingent of seniors and I will try to jog the memory of the city council by attending their meeting on CDBG funding. With empty plates in hand, we will show them that the problem is too important to ignore. We want the council to see the “face” of the issue. We want to remind the council that their vote not only affects seniors, but our community as a whole.
Eating well is important at any age. For seniors who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, receiving regular nutritious meals is critical. Malnutrition is a serious problem for the elderly and is responsible for the death of approximately 2,000 to 3,000 older adults each year in this country. Many seniors lack sufficient funds to purchase healthy foods. Others lack the mobility needed to access nutritious food. Even if they are able to access the food, they may be unable to prepare their daily meals.
Senior Community Centers has added 300 seniors to our meal programs in the last year. We provide 1,700 nutritious meals daily to seniors in all eight council districts through our congregate meal and home delivered meal programs. Funding is critical to ensure seniors are supported and their health and functional capacity is maintained. Failing to adequately provide for our seniors will cost the city much more in the long run. Nutritious meals lead to better health for which reduces paramedic calls, emergency room visits and unnecessary hospitalizations.
Changing demographics and the unstable economy mean that the need for senior services will continue to increase. The United States senior population is expected to increase by more than 120 percent by 2050, making up 21 percent of the total population. What is more, for the last two years San Diego seniors have forgone an increase in Social Security retirement and disability benefits. Decreasing funding for services and programs for seniors won’t decrease the need; however, it will decrease the number of seniors who will be able to remain living independently in their own homes.
Many seniors struggle to buy the medicine they need to stay alive. They struggle with health, food, and rising utility costs. They wrestle with the daily challenges of functioning independently with debilitating health conditions. They suffer with mobility issues, with isolation, and depression. These are our grandfathers, our grandmothers, our aunts, our uncles, our dads, our moms, and they are hungry for our support.
We recommend that the council work together to develop a plan that will allocate resources where they are needed most, and provide seniors with their fair share of funding support. We hope that, in the future, the council will have the courage to re-examine priorities and invest in seniors because they deserve better.
The elderly inspire us, they provide us with the wisdom that can only come from a life fully lived, they give love, encouragement, and they teach in ways that provide a deeper understanding of life.
If the city council’s recommendation didn’t represent a lack of memory, then it certainly indicates a lack of judgment. Poor nutrition can affect both.
Paul Downey is president and CEO of Senior Community Centers. He lives in Rancho Peñasquitos.