Mayors proposed cut to senior meals program under fire

FRESNO, California

Their average age is 80. Most live at or below the poverty line. Most live alone. For some, this lunch may be their only meal of the day.

Larry Tena is one the seniors who visits the cafeteria at the Senior Citizens Village in Southeast Fresno almost every day.

"It's very important we have the lunches here there's a lot of handicaps that come over here that can't go nowhere else."

This cafeteria is the biggest feeding location in the city, and one of the three the Mayor wants to close. It's a threat Barbara Eubanks, the director of the facility is tired of hearing.

"Every time there's a problem at city hall they want to really go after the old people and I don't understand that. They were the backbone of our country, were they not?"

Mayor Swearengin told the city council the failure of Measure G, which would have provided money to the city by selling off the city's residential garbage service is the reason for her proposal. But even Measure G supporter, City Council Member Lee Brand notes that a sudden surge in unexpected funds have changed the city's financial picture.

"The bottom line is we are going to get through it, we are not going to have to file bankruptcy, I don't think we will even have to file fiscal emergency, we are starting a slow path to fiscal recovery."

Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea notes the county is about to refund the city more than three million dollars in property tax monies, that could be used to balance the books.

"We'd avoid deciding to reduce police offers, reduce hot meals for senior citizens, reduce park services, that's not the answer."

Fresno City council member Sal Quintero says the city can find the money to keep all five senior hot meal locations open.

"We've identified some funding streams to keep them open and keep the seniors fed."

According to Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd the city spends about $150,000 a year on providing the meals at five community centers.

City hall sources estimate cutting three centers would save the city less than one hundred thousand a year.

The food itself is paid for by the Federal Government and is administered by the Fresno Madera Agency on Aging. Director Jean Robinson says city cutbacks would not end the program.

"It's part of a federal nutrition program so the funding is available for the meals to continue but the problem is if the city closes the sites the city is going to remove the city employees that serve the meals."

But she notes it would limit access to those who need it.

"I'd hate to deny my parents a meal and that's what I think people need to understand. When you look at the people behind me eating this meal it could me your Mom or your Dad or your brother or your uncle or you aunt, and how could you deny them a meal. And I don't really think the money they save by closing the site is really going to fix the overall budget issues."

Robinson is urging seniors who depend on the program to attend budget hearings at City Hall on Monday.

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