Georgia has more than 1,000,000 people aged 65 and older. Any given day you’ll find a few dozen of them at a senior center in Port Wentworth. Many come for company, others for a nutritious meal which more older people need. The food is provided by Senior Citizens, Inc. which reacted to a new study that says food insecurity in Georgia is higher than the national average. “Food insecurity means you don’t have food in your house because you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from and Georgia is the sixth worst state in the nation for food insecurity among older adults,” says Patty Lyons.
“We really do need to be taking care of older citizens and nutrition plays a huge role,” said Lyons.
Lyons believes their Meals on Wheels program i(which serves 1,800 meals daily to seniors in four counties) is more important than ever. She says food that is delivered to those who can no longer cook or drive keeps people healthier and in their homes longer.
She’s concerned because the federal government has indicated it may cut the program drastically by 35 percent which would mean serving 44,000 fewer meals each year. “So to me it seems very short sighted that we would not invest in something as basic as food.”
Lyons says cutting the budget for something like this doesn’t t makes sense to many who serve seniors. She says money up front for nutritious food helps keep a senior citizen in his or her home longer and avoid a more costly nursing home stay.
The study also indicates that many seniors in Georgia don’t have enough money set aside for retirement and medical bills. At the meal site, we found Jerry Owens and his wife, who mostly come for the company. In terms of retirement planning, he says “you kind of have to look at it long range, i.e. am I going to have enough that’s going to see me to the end?” he told us.
But as Lyons says, many planning retirement 20 years ago for example relied on programs like Medicare that have changed in recent years. “So when some started planning, Medicare paid for a lot more,” she said. “Now you’ve got this doughnut hole in prescriptions, you’ve limited stay in rehab for example, so what you though you would have, you don’t have anymore.
Lyons also says people are living longer and are counting on the services such as food assistance.
The study says in many cases, seniors in Georgia do not have enough money saved for retirement and medical care. Owens thinks about that in terms of possible federal or state budget cuts. “There could be things that happened when comes to stuff like medication and I’ve heard rumors that Medicare might be cutting back,” he said. “And that means that we as seniors would have to end up putting a little bit more of our social security and pensions into buying our medications and stuff.”
Whatever the needs, seniors are a population that Lyons says can’t be ignored. “They’re often a forgotten demographic but for our community they’re already 28 percent of the population so it’s only going to grow.”