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Funding woes threaten Senior Citizen meals program; Hales says extension given

Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., on Monday said that South Mississippi Planning and Development District officials have told him they would give Pearl River County an extension on a food service program that sees about 40 elderly low-income residents receive free noon meals at the Senior Center in Picayune.

SMPDD Executive Director Les Newcomb late Monday confirmed the agreement. “Yes, Sir! That’s right. We have delayed a decision to Aug. 6,” he said from his Gulfport office. The SMPDD is an umbrella agency under which the Area Agency on Aging, known as AAA, operates, to provide the meals Monday through Thursday at the Senior Center, 40 El Patch Parkway, Picayune.

AAA director Robert Moore in a letter dated July 24 — a copy of which was obtained by the Picayune Item — told supervisors that the agency was going to terminate the delivery of the meals to the Senior Center on Wednesday unless an outstanding balance on expected funding of $47,700 was paid to the agency.

Hales said he had asked by email for an extension, saying that supervisors would discuss the matter at their Monday board meeting. He said SMPDD officials told him they would hold off until they hear from supervisors after the meeting.

Senior Center executive director Darlene C. Adams and a representative of SMPDD are expected to attend Monday’s board of supervisors meeting.

“This program is essential for the low-income elderly it serves,” Adams said on Monday.

AAA contracts with Valley foods of New Orleans, which prepares and delivers the hot meals.

In his letter to Hales, Moore said his agency had requested $47,700 matching funds to provide services to Pearl River County’s elderly. He said he never received a “Memorandum of Commitment” signed by supervisors, which constitutes a contract with the agency. SMPDD, under which AAA operates, is a nonprofit agency that helps government entities obtain and distribute government and private charity grants.

In the letter, Moore said that from October, 2011, through June, 2012, the SMPDD had received only $15,000.03 from the county. Moore wrote, “Though we never received the Memorandum of Commitment, we continued to provide services.”

However,

Moore told supervisors that we “regretfully have to cease serving congregate and home-delivered meals due to the lack of funds as of Aug. 1. . .”

During a round of budget cuts supervisors on June 23 cut the Senior Center $2,500. Adams said that amount, although seemingly low in dollar amount, was actually 25 percent of the funding the Center was expecting from the county for the current fiscal year, or $10,000.

Supervisors also cut AAA by $5,000 on June 23.

Senior Center officials were caught by surprise by the threatened cut-off of meals.

Said Adams in an email to her board of directors, a copy of which the Item also obtained:

“I told Patrick (supervisor board president J. Patrick Lee) in the future, I would like to be told directly by the board when things like this arise that affect our seniors. I have 40 seniors coming to eat on Wednesday and what are we to do if our meals aren’t delivered?

“Also, that I had two employees hired to handle the meals, and I would have to let them go. I have already reduced the Nutrition Assistant’s hours from 20 to 16 as a result of the topped funding in June, that amounted in a 25 percent cut from the supervisors.”

In a letter to supervisors and the Picayune City Council, a copy of which the Item also obtained, Adams said her sources of funding and the percentage of the overall budget were eight percent from the City of Picayune, four percent from supervisors since the cuts, 21 percent from grants and 67 percent from fund raisers. She said she had requested the same amount of funding as last year for the new fiscal year from supervisors and from Picayune.