Hundreds of Maine seniors have been on a wait list in recent years to receive Meals on Wheels. Gov. Janet Mills' proposed state budget doesn't address the wait list, but advocates for seniors are hoping that lawmakers will. A pair of bills before the legislature's Health and Human Services Committee would increase state funding for the program.
Meals on Wheels delivers food to homebound seniors ages 60 and older who are unable to prepare meals on their own. Executive Director of the Maine Council on Aging Jess Maurer says the per-person cost to deliver five meals a week over the course of a year is roughly $1800. That's a bargain, she says, given that Meals on Wheels helps seniors stay in their own homes and out of expensive nursing facilities.
"Providing a year of nursing home care is over $75,000,” Maurer says. “It makes good sense to invest in lower cost, higher value services like this."
But it's a service that Maurer says has a consistent wait list in Maine, which currently stands at about 400 people. That's why she supports two bills that would boost state support for the program, which Maurer says gets the bulk of its funding from federal sources and local fundraising efforts by Area Agencies on Aging.
"With our growing older population, we've not been able to keep up with demand," she says.
One proposal would allocate a half a million dollars for the next two fiscal years to address the current wait list. Another bill would devote $1.5 million annually during the same timeframe to eliminate the current wait list and absorb further demand.
Lisa Harvey-McPherson, the vice president of government relations for Northern Light Health, says Meals on Wheels benefits seniors in ways that go beyond providing nourishment.
"Having the home-delivered meal and the individuals coming in to visit with them is as important to their mental health as the food is to their nutritious health," says Harvey-McPherson.
A proposal introduced two years ago to boost state funding for Meals on Wheels received no opposition during a public hearing. Though it made it through committee, it ultimately died because no funds were appropriated.