Seniors push state to continue funding

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By Johnathan Ryan

An effort is under way to get state lawmakers to buck Gov. Mark Sanford's request to remove funding that's helped seniors get hot meals and transportation.

Sanford eliminated a $2.9 million request from his proposed $6.8 billion state budget that would go to the Lt. Governor's Office on Aging. In a supplemental funding bill that passed last year, the $2.9 million was distributed to senior centers across the state in 2007-08.

As a result of the funding, about 5,500 seniors across the state were taken off waiting lists and have received hot meals and transportation services from senior centers.

"I do not know why he (Sanford) didn't approve it," said Curtis Loftis, director of the Lt. Governor's Office on Aging. "I would have counseled him differently."

Loftis said his department and other advocacy groups are calling on state legislators to approve the $2.9 million in their budgets this fiscal year.

"We are advocating in the General Assembly that the $2.9 million be included," he said. "It appears the General Assembly is friendly to the idea."

He said most legislators realize that the recipients of the services are between 70 and 90 and need help getting certain essential items, such as hot meals.

Lancaster County senior centers received about $60,000 from the state fund.

Here, the money has helped 78 seniors get hot meals at senior centers or delivered to their homes for a total of 6,800 additional meals served, said Lancaster County Council on Aging Director Sally Sherrin. To put the 78 seniors back on the waiting list would be a "catastrophe," she said.

"We would hate to do that," she said.

Lower-income seniors have been targeted with the money, although there is no income criteria to qualify, Sherrin said.

She said those who receive the meals can't prepare meals for themselves or they don't have caretakers who can prepare meals for them.

"Us (the Council on Aging), AARP and the Lt. Governor's office plan to ask legislators that it be reinstated and make it recurring," Sherrin said.

The Silver-Haired Legislators, a group of senior representatives that advocate for senior interests before the state Legislature, have started a letter-writing campaign to lawmakers.

Some seniors have written notes on paper plates at their senior centers and mailed them to Columbia.

Contact Johnathan Ryan at 416-8416 or jryan@thelancasternews.com