CHEER receives some help from state

The Sussex County Senior Services organization CHEER received a 5.5 percent increase from the state this year in the Grant-in-Aid bill, which “will help,” according to CHEER Deputy Director John Culp, but doesn’t solve the problem with a possible cut in services.

“That’s not our primary funding source but it’s a big help,” Culp said. “The other part, the meal costs,” he added, “we’re still negotiating.”

The Grant-in-Aid monies are used for salaries and activities at the centers but CHEER receives its nutrition program funding from the Division of Aging. CHEER officials plan to meet with the Division of Aging on July 12 but negotiations could continue into September, according to Culp. CHEER’s fiscal year closes at the end of September and “a possible impact will be felt” in October.

“Things will stay the same for a few months,” Culp said. “The funding we’re debating is for services beginning in October.”

According to Culp, CHEER received $1.07 million last year for its nutrition program from the Division of Aging. State officials had previously told CHEER to expect level funding for next year, which would force a cut in senior services because of rising costs.

Utility and fuel costs have doubled, Culp said, and health insurance costs are up 20 percent.

Last year, CHEER officials served 106,600 meals to homebound seniors in Sussex County and 92,000 at its Sussex centers. Possible decreases could mean that only 78,428 meals could be served to seniors at home and 78,475 in the centers. Point systems, reservations and first-come-first-served policies could be implemented to determine who needs meals the most, Culp said. CHEER’s clientele averages almost 80 years old; 87 percent live alone and some 73 percent live below the poverty level, he added.

“Somebody is going to be furious,” Culp said about the possible cuts in an earlier interview. “It’s not going to be pretty and we’re not happy we have to do it.

“I don’t see how they’re going to do this. It’s horrible,” added Sheree Stephens, the Ocean View CHEER center director. “These are the people that fought for our country. They’re the ones that built our country. We wouldn’t be here if not for them. Now we’re not going to feed them?”

State Sen. George Bunting (D-Bethany Beach) said last week that Sussex County’s government should be held responsible for senior services in its county.

“This is a Sussex County issue,” Bunting said. “They should be going to the county and County Council should be stepping up to the plate.”

“That’s the senator’s opinion,” Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels said of Bunting’s comments. “He’s entitled to it.”

Culp said that transportation funding for the centers — which has not increased in four years — comes from the Delaware Department of Transportation but is allocated through Sussex County. Culp had no update on that funding, but if it remains level, he said, a bus will be shut down at the Roxana center, eliminating 8,000 trips to and from the center.

A 3,500-hour decrease in home services — which help homebound seniors perform tasks such as cooking, cleaning and bathing — is also possible.