Home Breaking News CADC stops senior center funding; contract extended to Oct. 31

CADC stops senior center funding; contract extended to Oct. 31

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By P.J. Tracy

Murfreesboro Diamond

Following last week’s decision to cease funding by the Central Arkansas Development Council (CADC), several senior centers in the area – including Murfreesboro – face murky futures.

For the past 37 years, the CADC has managed eight southwest and central Arkansas senior centers, including locations in Arkadelphia, Benton, Bryant, Gurdon, Malvern, Mount Ida as well as Glenwood and Murfreesboro in Pike County.

At an emergency board meeting on Monday, May 13, the CADC voted unanimously Monday to not renew the nonprofit’s contract to manage eight regional senior activity centers, citing losses of over $6 million in the past decade and the rising inflation costs of food, fuel, utilities combined with shrinking funding options from the various levels, including federal, as covid-19 funds begin to dwindle. It was also stated that no increase in funding was expected anytime soon to help combat the crisis.

Losses have mounted for the CADC, with the following amounts reported after the meeting:

2021 — $460,000

2022 — $826,000

2023 — $1,500,000

The CADC said they want to continue the programs, but simply no longer have the funding to continue the underfunded efforts if they wish to ensure their own financial existence. The CADC said it expects to finish 2024 with an overall deficit – perhaps up to $1.3 million — marking a first for them.

As opposed to immediately cut funding, the CADC board did agree to extend its contract through Oct. 31, at which time management of the senior centers will revert to the state’s West Central Area Agency on Aging (WCAAA) and CareLink, non-profit corporations governed by a board of directors.

It was stated that the CADC will deplete its reserves for the next two months to satisfy the costs of some 540 employees, which was tabbed at $900,000 every two weeks.

One of 800 Area Agencies on Aging across the United States, they were created by the Older Americans Act of 1974. According to the WCAAA website, the mission is to “monitor, assess, coordinate and pool” all resources, public and private, which provide services to seniors, the growing population of persons over 60 years of age.

With each state determines exactly how its agencies operate, there are eight regional Area Agencies on Aging in Arkansas. 

The website seniorspecialists.org/our-history) states that “The first, and still the most visible, project of the Area Agency on Aging of West Central Arkansas was to establish local Senior Adult Centers throughout the region. These centers meet the needs of seniors for nutrition (congregate meals, Meals on Wheels), but also for socialization (fellowship). They are focal points in each community. Each Senior Center is run by a local sub-contractor and monitored by the AAA.”

At the meeting the CADC made it clear as managers of the facilities, they did not have the authority to close any of the centers, which are under the ultimate control of the AAA.

However, after the vote — while no final decision have been made — Care Link CEO Luke Mattingly (who oversees the Benton and Bryant centers) told media outlets that he could not guarantee that all the senior centers will ultimately survive, but all efforts will be extended to try and do so after a deep dive into all the financial issues. 

Barbara Flowers, WCAAA executive director, was quoted as saying all options were on the table to keep the centers open, including that some facilities may have to see a reduction in the number of days open, perhaps to three days a week. The Murfreesboro center already operates on that schedule on Monday through Wednesday on weeks not affected by a holiday.

Between now and Oct. 31, the AAA will look to find a financing partner to help them afford the senior center finances, and should none be found, the effort will rest solely on their shoulders.

The CADC also noted at the meeting that the agencies’ commodity program will continue as a completely different program from the senior center operation, though they noted it was possible for locations of the distribution to change in the future.

Additionally, vehicles and equipment purchased for the senior centers while under the CADC will remain to be utilized by whatever directing agency takes over.

Murfreesboro senior center manager Vickie Hutson said that to help alleviate costs, she had already agreed with the CADC to become a four day a week employee as opposed to five.

“I don’t think the Older American Act will allow them to close any of these centers,” Hutson said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind we may have down time.”

She noted that over the last four years, while inflation has made everything cost more, increases in funding sources including Title III funds, cigarette taxes and senior center tax funds have been nonexistent.

“Of course, while the covid money was there, it went noticed how much everything had increased.”

Hutson said the center’s food costs have increased from “$400-$500 a month” before covid to “$2,000 or better” recently. “That’s a big jump, and we’ve got no increase in funding. I’ve been here 21 years, and CADC has always covered our shortages, but the shortages now are just so astronomical, they can’t keep doing it.”

Hutson recently held a meeting at the senior center facility that was attended by local seniors as well as state, county and local elected representatives.

Hutson said the Murfreesboro senior center was more efficient than some of the larger centers – with less employed staff and that church volunteers delivered meals locally as opposed to paid employees. Still, the local center finds itself in the hole for $101,000 thus far in 2024 and a projected $240,000 in 2025 “if something is not done.”

“I think AAA will hold the line with who qualifies for meals … but it is dramatic and I do think it will be hard to find another funding source. I don’t think the AAA and the state of Arkansas wants to be our funding provider, but I would like to think they would ultimately step up, should that eventuality arise. But I don’t know today where we would go from there, you just have to have a funding source. Covid money really just flowed in and helped mask the reality of things … these issues should have never happened.”

Hutson said the impact was already being felt locally, with her loss of a day and the loss of a center position. “We’re already experience cuts,” she said.

The Murfreesboro center currently offers the congregate meal at the center that is attended by seniors that can travel, as well as socialization and transportation options. In addition, the center offers home delivered meals to homebound seniors, and has a small number of Medicaid-form based “Arkansas Choice” meals paid for by the state at a rate of $5.96 for a meal that has an actual cost of over $10.

“Home delivered meals are by donation, just like up here [at the center], and it’s not much,” said Hutson. “We just don’t get much money for that, understandably. Most of them are on fixed incomes and just don’t have a lot to give.” 

Hutson said the issue was a “fixable thing” but that she has at least 60 home delivered meals. “We have a lot of those that are teetering [ability to care for themselves], but there aren’t a lot of available beds at nursing homes.”

She said the lack of a grocery store in Murfreesboro simply exacerbates the issues “It just adds to the stress of it all,” but notes that unlike other centers, the city and county graciously help defray costs. “Other centers aren’t that fortunate to have that support … Nashville only delivers meals inside the city limits, while we deliver all over the county. That’s where county funds help us to be able to reach out into the county, and not just in the city limits … they really help support both centers here and in Glenwood.” She also lists the Anthony Foundation as a benefactor of the local center. “They have all been so good to our center.”

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