Washington Wake-Up Call: Don't Forget Our Hungry Seniors

If you are reading this while eating, here is a hard fact to swallow: 6 million seniors in America face the threat of hunger. That is one in nine. Yes, in the richest nation on earth many seniors are struggling to survive without proper nutrition. Now add to that the senior tsunami beginning to cast its long shadow across all our communities. It is a dramatically rising tide of senior citizens, and most Americans are completely unaware that it is upon us. That includes many of our leaders in Washington. Unless we begin to act decisively and aggressively, senior hunger in America will only worsen and we will pay in lives as well as dollars.

Just take a look at your neighbors and you will see the face of senior hunger in America. It is your 5th grade teacher, retired firefighters and the clerk you used to see at the local grocery store. Now, they are too old and frail to leave their homes, and their numbers are growing. The elderly accounted for almost 40 million members of our population in 2009 and the
government predicts that the number will climb to more than 72 million by 2030. Ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 years old every single day in America.

President Barack Obama recently released his fiscal year 2012 budget proposal. Instead of asking for increased funding of Senior Nutrition Programs, his Administration recommends a flat repeat of current levels - approximately $ 819 million. If funding were keeping up with inflation and the growth in the elderly population, based on the funding levels of two decades ago (FY 1992) that number should now be approximately $ 1.7 billion. This huge discrepancy highlights a significant and disturbing shift in national priorities. We are witnessing an eroding commitment to seniors who are desperately in need of life-sustaining necessities.

Meals On Wheels programs work tirelessly to serve more than one million meals each day in America. The need, though, is so much greater. The majority of those programs depend on federal funding through the Older Americans Act as their core funding.

We, as a nation, are failing those who depend on us. Surely there is nothing more fundamental to life and health than food. But every day, more and more seniors are going hungry. Today's seniors are just as precious to us as those of twenty years ago. Our financial commitment to their nutritional health should reflect that.

The Meals On Wheels Association of America and our Member programs throughout the United States know as well as anyone the economic difficulties that the country and the Administration and Congress are facing. Yet, we cannot ignore the facts. As our nation's financial commitment towards feeding seniors has decreased, hunger risks have skyrocketed. And this, in and of itself, represents an incalculable cost to the nation.

We can only hope that the Congress will carefully consider the impact their decisions concerning Senior Nutrition Programs have on America's seniors in every community - and every Congressional District - in this great land. This is a difficult fiscal environment, and we know that challenges are great. But we must remind policymakers and the nation as a whole that there are millions of others who need us and whom we are still failing to reach. Feeding hungry seniors who cannot provide meals for themselves is not a discretionary activity. It is a moral imperative. Our message is as simple as that.