NEW PORT RICHEY — Federal spending cuts are limiting the number of subsidized meals for seniors and leaving Pasco officials in a bind.
County commissioners on Tuesday heard how Pasco's Elderly Nutrition division, which offers meals to seniors at eight dining centers and in their homes, is being forced to cut back.
One by one, a group of seniors showed up to protest the cuts and ask commissioners for alternative funding.
"We work hard all our lives," Pasco resident Mary Donovan said. "We should not have things taken away from us."
Another resident, Rena Cowden of Port Richey, said the meals are the only source of nutrition for many home-bound elderly residents.
"We really appreciate this program," she said. "Without it, we would not have access to a balanced meal during the day."
Division manager Gabriel Papadopoulos told commissioners the program recently lost $40,000 in annual funding. That translates to a loss of about 14,060 meals yearly, or about 5 to 10 percent of the total meals provided. About 120 seniors are on a waiting list for the program.
"This is going to be a recurring deficit," Papadopoulos said.
The cuts came as a surprise to commissioners and create a funding dilemma.
Faced with pressure from frustrated taxpayers, commissioners are trying to find ways to trim an impending 7.8-percent increase in the aggregate millage rate next year.
Additionally, commissioners are set to vote on the budget next month and had figured the spending plan had already been worked out.
"This upsets me," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. "It upsets me that some of our seniors are going without meals."
Administrator Michele Baker said county staff will comb through the budget and report back to commissioners by the next board meeting in two weeks, but she couldn't say whether she'll be able to find additional revenue. The program already receives about $700,000 in yearly in-kind donations.
"I don't have an answer right now," she said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.