FAIRFIELD — Cathy Hall of Meals on Wheels of Solano has never used a waiting list for a senior who asks for her nonprofit’s help.
Thanks to the automatic federal budget cuts that started Friday, dubbed sequestration, the executive director of Meals on Wheels now faces that very unpalatable decision.
“We have never had to say no to anyone until now, which does not please me at all,” said Hall, Solano County’s executive director for Meals on Wheels.
Meals on Wheels is one of a host of nonprofit groups whose budgets are supported by federal dollars. In Meals on Wheels’ case, it makes up 70 percent of its budget.
Solano County Meals on Wheels serves more than 650 meals a day and more than 160,000 annually.
“If you were to look at the value of the program, it’s not just the food, but also the contact we have with our clients,” Hall said. “Sometimes this is the only interaction they get.”
All such groups may see their funding cut due to the failure of President Barack Obama and Congress to reach a budget deal, resulting in across-the-board reductions to many areas of the federal government, from defense to social programs.
The Suisun City-based nonprofit can get along for a while with its present resources, “but not for long,” Hall said.
The organization has to ponder a series of equally distasteful fiscal options, one of which is creating a waiting list, “which is one contingency we don’t want to do,” Hall said.
The one thing Hall said Meals on Wheels will not consider is cutting service to any senior it presently delivers meals to, she said.
“Cutting out that senior, that won’t even be in our dialogue at this point,” Hall said.
She will consider the creation of a waiting list for future seniors who call to get meals, she said.
The nonprofit will also work on being more creative in how it purchases its food, track down alternative funding sources and reach out to its volunteers to see how else they can help.
Meanwhile, Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Leanne Martinson is still waiting for word about how badly her agency will be affected. She said she has been told it could be an 8.2 percent cut in funding for the current year “and that could be pretty devastating because we are two-thirds of the way through the fiscal year.”
“Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Martinson said. “As far as we know, it will be across-the-board. Our grant will be reduced by whatever percentage and we don’t know if we will have the discretion on how to implement it here.”
Martinson’s agency provides funding for a host of senior programs, from Meals on Wheels and family caregiver programs to legal services for seniors. All of them are operating at capacity.
She estimates the expected cuts for Meals on Wheels alone translates to 20,000 fewer meals served in the Napa-Solano area, based on the number of meals served last year.
“We feel really at a loss because these are very basic safety services,” Martinson said.
Martinson’s cutting options include reducing contracts with the groups the agency serves and cutting back on the agency’s staff with furloughs and reduced work hours.
“There are a lot of possibilities and they are all awful,” Martinson said.
Napa-Solano Head Start, which provides early childhood education services for approximately 900 children and their families in Solano County, is expecting to see at least 5.1 percent of its budget cut under the automatic spending cuts, according to Executive Director Debbie Peralez.
“It is a bigger cut than our administration can absorb and we will see some cuts to the services we give to our families,” Peralez said.
That could translate to closing one of the Head Start classrooms in Solano County and laying off staff members. That eliminates services to between 30 and 50 families.
The past few weeks saw agencies that depend on federal funding struggle with how to plan for the cuts because they have gotten little specific direction from above on how their funding will be specifically affected.
The gridlock in the nation’s capital has left a sour taste in the mouths of government employees and those depending on federal funding to provide services.
“It is not a very effective way to govern,” Peralez said.
“It is so discouraging,” Hall said of what she sees as Washington’s tendency to talk in numbers and budget while losing sight of the people it serves. “This is about someone’s quality of life we are talking about. We are talking about food. We are talking about keeping people safe.”
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr. The California News Service contributed to this report.