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State Senior Services board holds first 2018 meeting

MONTGOMERY — Former Valley City Councilman Ray Edwards is entering his 12th year as board chairman of the Alabama Department of Senior Services. On Tuesday morning, he presided over the first meeting of calendar year 2018 for the ADSS board.

The central topic of conversation was whether the state’s meal program for seniors would continue without cutbacks.

It’s a new year, and a state budget has yet to be approved by the State Legislature. But board members are hopeful this can be done, especially given that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey appears to fully support the program.

According to Tom Cotton, ADSS Commissioner, the governor has included a $500,000 increase for the program in this year’s proposed budget. Final funding will likely depend on a new food contract. The State Legislature isn’t likely to approve funding based on assumed needs; it will likely approve funding on provable needs.

Board members are hopeful that some extra spending will be more than enough to cover the uncertainty created by the fact a new contract must be let this year. A five-year contract for Valley Foods of Montgomery to provide these meals for senior centers expired in 2017.

Under state law, a new contract must be awarded this year to the low bidder in a competitive process.

If that low bid is significantly higher that what the previous five-year contract called for, it’s possible there could be some cutbacks in the program.

According to ADSS figures, more than 1.9 million meals were served in Alabama senior centers in 2017. Another 2.5 million were delivered to homebound Alabama seniors. Alabama residents who are at least 60 years of age and who meet certain income requirements can receive these meals five days a week.

“It is so important for us to continue this program at the level provided for in the governor’s proposed budget,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of people out there who are eligible but who are not being served. We need to include them. The delivery program is important. I know that in Valley, some people being reached by this program do not have family support. Sometimes the bus driver is the only person they see all day, and the food could be the only well-balanced meal they get that day.”

Edwards was pleased to tell fellow board members that Valley will be getting a new senior center this year and that the city will be able to accommodate more seniors in its congregate program. He commended Mayor Leonard Riley and the current city council for following through on something that had been in the planning stages for at least a decade.

“I want to thank State Sen. Gerald Dial for his support on this,” he said. “We’ve been working on it for 10 years. The new center will be twice the size of our present center. We think we can serve 250 meals a week there. We’re looking for it to open in May.”

Dial, who is also on the ADSS board, said he was pleased about the new center in Valley and was also glad to see that a new senior center will soon be opening in the Beulah community in Lee County.

“The Lee County Commission has been very supportive of this,” he said. “It will be much nicer than the present center in Beulah, and it will have a safe center in the event of stormy weather.”

Edwards said that he would like to see some current rules relaxed and for people who live outside the city limits  to be allowed to  participate in a congregate program.

Emily Marsal, general counsel for the ADSS, said that she was not certain there was such a restriction.

“I don’t think it’s a hard-fast rule,” she said. “But we will check on it.”

Marsal commended Ivey for her support of a proposed Elder Abuse Protection Act. She said there was a definite need for such legislation.

“This would give us more teeth in protecting the elderly,” she said. “It’s something that can potentially save lives. It would definitely be a feather in the cap for the Department of Human Resources.”

A trial program that’s underway is saving the state significant money in nursing home care. Approximately 220 people statewide have been moved from nursing homes to private residences.  The state has saved an estimated $5.4 million so far. The state is responsible for 30 percent of the total bill in nursing home stays. This is being done on a limited basis and only with those who can function in a home-like environment that’s safe for them.

Board Member Randall Shedd, who represents Cullman County in the state senate, said that a new senior center had opened in the Fairview community in Cullman County and has been well received thus far.

“The important thing is that we now have homebound service in the northeast part of the county,” he said. “We didn’t have that before. I want to thank the board for your support on this.”

“In some cases, people who are homebound don’t have families who come to see them,” Edwards said. “This delivery program is really good. Just seeing a familiar face once a day when the bus pulls up means a lot to these people.”