A $50,000 cut in federal funding for its Meals on Wheels program has left Lynnwood-based Homage Senior Services scrambling to continue feeding local seniors in need.
Homage received notification June 23 that its funding for Medicaid Meals on Wheels recipients was being cut by 20% — due to the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
The news hit the organization especially hard since Homage was already operating the crucial program at a financial loss.
Homage is seeking the community’s help to make up the budget shortfall by Sept. 1. That will provide enough funding to serve new clients through the first quarter of 2024.
Homage’s cost to provide and deliver a week’s worth of food is $9 per meal. During the pandemic, the reimbursement rate for Medicaid was increased from $6.80 to $8.50. But on July 1, funds returned to pre-pandemic rates, creating a $50,000 deficit.
In 2022, Homage served 34,000 meals, a 60% increase from 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers. To add salt to the wound, food and gas prices have increased significantly over the last three years.
“I am confident we can raise the money,” said Homage Nutrition Director Leah Hammon, adding that the community is already responding to the need. However, the agency is hoping to develop a more steady funding source, given the fluctuations in Medicaid funding.
When asked what Homage would do if it couldn’t overcome the deficit, Hammond said: “All are vital programs, but if we’re unable to raise the money, there are going to be hard decisions.”
Meals on Wheels isn’t just food delivery. Drivers are trained to do wellness checks on their recipients, connect them to resources, or provide other help — from putting food away to minor home repairs to offering pet food.
“Drivers are the heart and soul of the program,” Hammon said.
She said the drivers give out birthday cards and deliver Thanksgiving meals. For the winter holidays, quilts from Mukilteo Lighthouse Quilters are made with a personal touch for each person receiving the gift.
One of the most critical aspects Meals on Wheels provides for seniors is a community that watches out for them. According to Hammon, the delivery driver may sometimes be their only human contact. As an example of this connection, she noted that one of Homage drivers helped save a life.
When a recipient didn’t answer their door, driver Lance took the groceries to their emergency contact and requested that person do a welfare check. It ended up that the resident had fallen and needed emergency services.
Even though financial help is the most critical, there are other ways people can help, Hammon said. Volunteers are always welcome, but you can also advocate for senior programs with your neighbors and members of Congress.
Learn more about how you can help Homage and Meals on Wheels here or call 425-265-2285.
— Story and photos by Rick Sinnett