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Jennings Sunday: Bracing for cuts

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NORTH VERNON — Agencies that serve the elderly and very young in Jennings County are scrambling to make their budgets work after learning their programs are facing significant budget cuts.

Sandy Bishop, the new director of the Senior Resource Center of Jennings County in North Vernon, said that federally-mandated spending cuts — known as sequestration — have the agency facing a budget cut of more than $6,000.

That’s worse than originally expected, she said, and puts at risk the programs the center provides, such as meals to senior citizens.

What’s worse, agency leaders said, is that cuts to agencies that serve Jennings County are higher than the 5 percent cuts agencies in other counties are expecting.

The reason, agency leaders think, is misinterpretation of the 2010 U.S. Census data for Jennings County.

“We have been told, according to the census, the numbers are way down for poverty in Jennings County and way down for the amount of

low-income citizens over the age of 60. Money is allocated on the amount of people in need. There must be an error,” Bishop said. “Other reports do not match those numbers given for the 2010 Census.”

However, Wade Eaglin, board president of the Senior Resource Center, said people shouldn’t panic right now.

“We have to find out what is really going on before we can say what cuts there will have to be,” he said.

Sheila Woods of Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana agreed with Bishop’s assessment that the census is causing a funding problem. Woods helps administer the agency’s programs in five counties including Jennings. The agency’s services include providing hot meals to lower-income seniors, at a central location and delivered to shut-ins.

“Our budget was cut 10 percent last year and it will be cut another 10 percent this year, and that is even before the sequester cuts,” Woods said. “When you add in the rising cost of food and supplies, it has a devastating effect on our budget and ability to provide services.”

Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana has been providing five hot meals a week for seniors at the Assembly of God Church in North Vernon. As of April 1, the agency will serve only three meals a week.

“That means on two days a week, many of the people will not eat and get the nutrition they need. And they will also miss the beneficial effects of being around others in a social setting,” Woods said.

Meals to shut-ins also will be cut as of April 1.

“Those receiving meals delivered to their homes five times a week will only receive three deliveries a week. They will still get five meals, but they will get one frozen meal and one hot meal. Many of them will not cook their frozen meal and more importantly there will not be daily checks to make sure they are OK,” Woods said.

Woods added that the agency might be forced to ask the public for help.

The impact of spending cuts are impacting the very young, too.

Melanie Harrell of the Ohio Valley Opportunity agency that helps administer Head Start programs in Jefferson, Jennings and Scott counties openly expressed her concern. The agency is facing an additional $90,000 cut to its budget, she said.

“We are very disappointed. These cuts are creating a negative effect on our children and therefore will have a negative impact on everyone’s future,” she said.

Head Start is a preschool program for at-risk children from lower-income families.

“We have already been studying ways to cut our costs. Our budget for the fiscal year of 2013 began in November of 2012. We have already cut field trips and parents’ nights, and we’re trying hard to make cuts that will have the least possible negative effect on the children,” Harrell said.

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