This year the Kenai city council expected to recieve a state grant of $169,584 for funding the Kenai Senior Center. Instead, the state gave Kenai $186,099, an increase of $16,515. Senior Center director Rachael Craig said that these funds will help meet the operating cost of the two meal programs she administers at the center: a group meal held in Kenai’s Vantage Point on Monday and Friday, and a meal delivered to the client’s home through a project known as Meals on Wheels.
The nutrition, transportation, and services grant (NTS) is given by the State of Alaska every year. According to Alaska Health and Social Services website, the NTS grant allows senior organizations provide their clients with “meals (in groups and in private homes), nutrition, and health education,” as well as “transportation services that enable seniors to maintain mobility and independence.” In addition to the two food programs, Craig said she uses NTS money to distribute information about healthcare and benefits available to seniors.
“The whole idea of this grant comes from the Older Americans Act,” Craig said, referring to a federal act signed in 1965. “They want seniors to come into a center or agency where congregant meals are served, so they won’t isolate. But if they are home-bound this grant provides for that. So our drivers go out and deliver meals.”
The state legislature added the extra money to this year’s NTS grant in September, giving the program an extra $545,000 state-wide. Craig said that the extra money was the result of efforts by Agenet, a group of senior organizations that includes the Kenai Senior Center.
Joan Gone, Health Program Manager for Alaska’s Department of Senior and Disability Services and a state-level administrator of the NTS grant said, “That was special money appropriated by the legislature, because Alaska has experienced the biggest increase, percentage-wise, of seniors, in the United States.”
Between 2000 and 2013, the number of Alaskans over age 65 increased 85 percent, according to the Alaska Commission on Aging, another group that advocated for the increase of the NTS grant. The commission also said that the percentage of these seniors receiving assistance from programs such as Meals on Wheels fell from 15 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2013.
A survey of program coordinators conducted by the commission attributed this decrease to the rising cost of fuel, food, and other operating costs. These findings were another reason that Agenet sought increased funding from the legislature. Gone said the additional money was distributed among Alaska’s 33 NTS grantees according to an array of criteria.
“It’s based on the population of people (in each grantee’s region) aged 60 and over,” Gone said. “Then it’s weighted with factors for how many are frail, how many have incomes below the poverty line, how many are rural, and various factors like that.”
Craig estimated that between 30 and 40 congregate meals are served at the Senior Center each Monday and Friday, and that around 100 meals are distributed by Meals on Wheels.
“We have about 1700 seniors that we could serve in our service area. Of those 1700, I’d say we provide some sort of service to maybe 1300 to 1500 a year,” said Craig. “Mostly we give them meals — could be either congregate or home meals — and outreach information. People know they can come here (the senior center) and get information about anything a senior might need.”
Of the $16,515 of additional funding to be received by the Kenai Senior Center, $2,515 will be put towards utilities. Two thousand dollars will be put towards supplies and operating costs for the congregate meal, and $12,000 will be for Meals on Wheels.
The Kenai city council passed the ordinance granting the funds to the Senior Center on Nov. 19th.
“Supplies could be food and paper products,” Craig said. One such product is a special biodegradable paper container for deliverable meals which can be sealed, frozen, and reheated. “Operating costs could be food, or something we need to have repaired in the kitchen.”
“Our food costs are going up and so are our paper costs,” Craig said. “We usually break even, but last year, it was like I was just pulling from one account to another, so that I knew we had enough. That’s primary — to make sure we have enough for our food to keep our program afloat.”
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org