Committee gives recommendations for senior legislation
JEFFERSON CITY - The hearings are over, now the work begins.
The members of the Interim Committee on Senior Nutrition, including Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, and Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, have issued their recommendations for legislation beneficial to seniors. Their report follows a series of meetings across Missouri.
"As we listened to people from around the state it became obvious there were issues that needed to be addressed to ensure our seniors are receiving the assistance they need," said Brandom. "The committee's recommendations address some of the most pressing issues."
The recommendations include:
* Reform of the current funding formula used by the Department of Health and Senior Services;
* Expansion of the food pantry tax credits to include senior centers;
* Appropriation of extra funds for the DHSS budget to match local fundraising efforts by senior centers and to match funds raised through the Senior Citizens Services Tax Fund;
* Consolidation of the state's 10 Area Agencies on Aging into one agency to increase efficiency and reduce costs;
* Give DHSS increased oversight over the area Agencies on Aging; and
* Repeal of the statue which hinders efforts to provide additional funding to the agencies outside the funding formula.
Brandom said she is most pleased that as a result of the committee's efforts the Department of Health and Senior Services will revisit the funding formula which currently provides more money to urban senior centers than those in rural areas. The present funding formula is based on density of population, she explained, but pointed out rural areas typically serve more meals.
According to Brandom, DHSS can redirect funds based on meals served the prior year, which would could provide significant additional funding to rural senior nutrition centers.
Because it will be an internal modification, she said she hopes it can be implemented quickly, but added she was not sure when the change would come about.
Currently, she is working on a bill she plans to introduce as part of her work on the committee which would would allow senior nutrition centers to receive the same tax credits now available to food pantries.
The legislator said she has always realized the value of senior nutrition programs, recalling when she first moved to Sikeston a 90-year-old neighbor received her lunch through Meals on Wheels. "That was the highlight of her day," she said. "It kept her living independently. These programs keep people in their homes and independent longer."
But through the hearings she came to realize how in the past few years rural centers such as those at Sikeston and Chaffee were faced by budget constraints leading to changes in operation and limits in the number of individuals who could be served. The committee's work and their findings is considered a priority, she said, by state leaders.
"I'm proud of the work we did and the amount of time we spent listening to the needs of our seniors," said Brandom. "The legislation that will result from the information we assembled will greatly improve the Senior Nutrition Program which in turn will give our seniors access to the nutritious meals they need to lead healthy lives."
Hodges agreed and added his support for the recommendations noting they would gives additional funding and/or tax relief for nutrition centers.
"These centers are a vital part of our communities and are a central cog for rural towns for a variety of activities," said Hodges. "The support of our senior population by the Legislature is only partial payment to the segment of our society that has given us so much."