Govt. shutdown could impact area seniors

COVINGTON — Newton County Senior Services clients who benefit from the Meals on Wheels program and get free transportation to the Senior Center could lose those services if the government shutdown continues into next week.

Senior Services Director Josephine Brown said she has been notified by Northeast Georgia Regional Commission that federal funds could be withheld if the government shutdown does not end by Oct. 15. Grants that fund senior transportation to and from the senior center, the Meals on Wheels program and staffers’ salaries could all be impacted. Senior Services receives approximately $40,000 a year for its transportation program and $179,000 additional federal funds for Meals on Wheels, activities and a portion of her staff’s salaries. The funds are distributed as a reimbursement monthly.

If reimbursements are cut, unless the county or some other entity can sustain the programs, they will cease until the funds are released, she said.

“We would not have monies to adequately serve those people,” she said.

Senior Services has 30 days to notify clients that services have been stopped, Brown said.

Meals on Wheels serves 100 homebound citizens each day, Brown said. In addition, Senior Services feeds between 50 and 65 seniors a day at the Senior Center.

“They forget that the elderly people are the ones that laid the groundwork for the building of these communities and that they pay taxes and they go to the polls and vote. They forget about that,” Brown said. “It’s just unfortunate that games are being played with people’s lives, not only the elderly and children, but with the total community.”

Brown said she and her staff are praying a resolution will be reached before Tuesday.

“I don’t like for people’s jobs to be in jeopardy … I do hope that everybody comes to their senses and realizes you’re playing with people’s lives, the lives of children and elderly and persons who are getting up and going to real jobs and barely making a living,” she said.

Federal money for Rockdale County Senior Services is funneled through the Atlanta Regional Commission and will be available until Nov. 15, said Director of Recreation and Maintenance Jackie Lunsford.

But Senior Services Division Manager Susan Morgan said her department is prepared if the flow of funding stops.

“We’ve been preparing for the shutdown since mid-September by not accepting new clients at this time and by not having nonessential center transportation,” she said.

In addition, some clients served under a federally-funded grant addressing nutrition and exercise needs are now served under a private grant, she said.

Rockdale Senior Services is also required to give 30 days notice to clients before services are impacted.

“We’re preparing by being as conservative as we can and preparing for that, if we do reach the Nov. 15 day, how we will be handling the remaining funds we have available for services,” Howell said.

Newton County Manager John Middleton said there were initial fears that reimbursements for the COPS Grant would dry up, but those funds are currently still available from the U.S. Department of Justice. The COPS Grant funds eight deputies’ salaries at the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

“The biggest concern is the long-term. Some things are still being funded or moving along normally at this point. What happens if this continues 30, 40, 60 days?” Middleton said. “You really won’t know until they announce what is impacted and what isn’t.”

The local U.S. Department of Agriculture office has closed due to the shutdown. The office is located in the Newton County Administration Building in the Department of Development Services. The employee who runs that office is on the county payroll, however, and has been transferred to erosion and sediment control.

The USDA office provides assistance to farmers seeking government grants and addresses land use, water quality and similar issues.