MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Directors at many of the state's 421 senior centers are struggling with reduced budgets and bracing for even greater funding drops if the Legislature slashes state funding for local governments.
"We haven't been cut yet, but we just looked at what would happen if our budget is cut by 20 percent," said Steve Hennes, director of the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud, one of the largest in the country.
"At a time when the senior population is growing rapidly, we'd no longer be open nights or weekends, cut six part-time positions, cut some classes, (cut) craft programs," he said. "If the cuts are deeper -- and they may be, depending on how much the Legislature cuts aid to cities -- it could be even more painful."
Other senior centers are already feeling the pinch of the tight economy.
At the Columbia Heights Senior Center, several hundred seniors get help filing their taxes but tight budgets have canceled other programs, including a six-session class on nutrition and wellness.
At the Jewish Community Center in St. Paul, this year's $65,000 senior-programming budget must be cut by $15,000 after Ramsey County decided this week to slice that amount from its support.
Many senior centers are funded largely by cities, school districts and counties, all of which are struggling to balance budgets in the face of a weakened economy.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed cutting about $24 million from a range of programs, including eliminating the state portion of money for Meals on Wheels, senior dining, insurance counseling, and the Senior Corps, whose 20,000 retirees provide about 2.9 million hours of volunteer work a year.
"That money sounds like a lot of money to me, but compared to the $4.2 billion state budget deficit, it's a pittance," said Cathy Bailey, director of the Gillespie Center in Mound -- one of the few centers in good financial shape because three-fourths of its $202,000 budget comes from donations and fund-raising.
"Those cuts are really shortsighted, not just because they hurt our most frail residents, but because it'll end up costing the state a lot more if just 10 percent of those people end up in nursing homes sooner," she said.
Cutting $2.7 million in state funding for senior dining programs, for instance, would result in closure of about one-quarter of 566 sites statewide where seniors can get hot lunches, ending meals for about 11,000 people, the Minnesota Board on Aging said this week. About half of the lost clients would be in the Twin Cities metro area, particularly in the suburbs, and the rest mainly in smaller cities around the state.
A $2.7 million cut would result in loss of an additional $2.2 million from matching federal funds and client donations, the board said. "Closing meal sites in smaller towns could be particularly hard because that's where there are fewer services for seniors to begin with," said Sally Gallagher, director of the Rochester Senior Center.
Her center already has lost 20 percent of its city funding, about $19,000, and she fears further cuts next year.
Twelve miles from Rochester, Jo Hess is trying to figure out how the Senior Citizens Center in Stewartville (population 5,411) will make its $13,000 budget this year.
"The city budgeted $4,000 for us, but we haven't gotten it yet and they're not sure they can come through," she said. "They told us not to expect it next year."
The center serves hot lunches to about 25 people every weekday, and offers income-tax help, a foot-care clinic, hearing-aid service, blood-pressure readings and defensive-driving classes.
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