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COMMENTARY: Sequestration will leave our seniors hungry

Sometimes I am really glad to live almost 3,000 miles from Washington, D.C. The latest “raging” chest-thumping, finger-pointing debate is whether President Obama cancelling tours of the White House are politically motivated or a true result of sequestration. This is a bit of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

For me – and more importantly for the low-income seniors served food by Senior Community Centers – sequestration means a cut of 32,000 meals in the coming year. Throughout San Diego County, the number of meals cut will be close to 100,000.

Where is the outrage and hyperbole from our elected officials over hungry seniors? What about all the other vulnerable Americans hurt by this self-induced “fiscal cliff” and its devastating consequences?

Perhaps it is easier to have mock anger over cancelled tours than to confront the pain caused by the inability to implement lessons most of us learned in preschool about sharing and compromise. Frankly, I could use some help explaining why the senior nutrition program is being cut when it actually saves tax dollars. There is much documentation that shows feeding seniors nutritionally balanced meals keeps them healthy, independent and significantly reduces healthcare costs.

Cutting meals is penny-wise, pound-foolish: something Washington seems to excel at doing.

Let me make this real and introduce you to Carol, a former teacher who raised four children as a single mom. Until the recession in 2008, Carol owned a very successful education-related IT consulting company with offices in five states. The recession hit her hard and she was forced to refinance her home to keep the company afloat. Eventually, it wasn’t enough and Carol found herself homeless, living in her car with her disabled adult daughter in a Walmart parking lot.

Fortunately, Carol received some assistance to move into an affordable housing complex. Shortly after, she took a nasty fall and broke both of her shoulders. After recovering for three months in a nursing home, Carol was released to go home. She could not dress herself, take a shower, grocery shop or fix herself a meal. She contacted Senior Community Centers’ Home-Delivered Meals Program, which resulted in a warm and healthy meal delivered to her the very next day.

The continuous visits of our delivery drivers and social workers caused a chain reaction on Carol’s floor: other residents came by to ask how they could help and new friendships were formed. Carol also lost 45 pounds with our nutritionally balanced meals and never felt more energized.

Today, Carol has healed and has become healthy – and confident to face life once again. Having experienced the difference of good nutrition, Carol told me during a recent visit that Senior Community Centers saved her life.

Without our meals and other assistance, Carol would have very likely ended up back in the hospital or living out her life in a skilled nursing facility. Her quality of life would have been poor and the expenses to Medicare and possibly Medi-Cal would have been significant. Carol’s story is just one of thousands at Senior Community Center and millions across the country at other senior centers.

Seeing how far Carol has come reinforces why Senior Community Centers and the hundreds of organizations around the U.S. committed to senior nutrition do what they do. Our low-income seniors already struggle everyday, why do these real people need to be hungry because our politicians can’t compromise?

Please join the fight against sequestration on senior nutrition. Reach our congressional delegation and U.S. senators by any means necessary. Call, write, email, tweet or post to their Facebook pages. Ask them to support senior nutrition and tell them the livelihood of San Diego seniors is in jeopardy. Your voice and actions will make all of the difference to lend a hand and a heart to seniors who deserve dignity and respect. Join us in sending them an urgent note today.

Paul Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more HERE.