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Some Meals on Wheels programs worry high fuel prices could drive volunteers out

Patty Wight
Maine Public

Some Meals on Wheels programs in Maine are concerned they'll lose volunteer drivers due to high fuel prices. Chris Beaulieu, director of nutrition services at the Aroostook Agency on Aging, says some volunteers have already left.

"It's putting a lot of strain on our volunteers and it has had us lose volunteers. And we are worried it could happen a little more frequently at this point," Bealieu says.

Especially because the number of recipients in the program have more than doubled during the pandemic, says Beaulieu. He says he hopes more people will step up to volunteer so each person has fewer miles to drive.

Drivers are eligible for reimbursement at the state rate of 45 cents a mile, which is lower than the federal rate of 58.5 cents. The executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, Rebecca Kirk says boosting that rate would help retain volunteers.

"We're all in a really tentative, tense situation right now. We're not really sure what's going to happen if the fuel prices stay this high," Kirk says.

A spokesperson for Maine's Department of Health and Human Service says mileage reimbursement rates are set through contract negotiations and that the Department is working with Area Agencies on Aging to ensure they can continue to deliver meals.