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Guest Essay by Paul Downey, Chair of the California Commission on Aging, and President and CEO of Serving Seniors (San Diego, CA)

With the growing number of seniors in California, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services recently held a hearing to discuss an increase in funding for senior nutrition programs. There are more than 7.6 million Californians over the age of 60 and 8.6 percent have incomes below the federal poverty level.

I see the faces of seniors living in poverty every single day. At Serving Seniors, the largest provider of senior services in San Diego County, 85 percent of our clients live on $850 per month. Many of our seniors have to choose between food, rent and medication. Our nutrition program, like many throughout the state, provides a critical safety net for the most vulnerable seniors.

However, flat state and federal funding allows for only a small population of seniors living in poverty to be served. Currently, only 3 percent of eligible seniors receive home delivered or congregate meals. About six years ago, California was at the forefront of overmatching federal funds for senior nutrition programs. Today, budgetary shortfalls have eliminated the overmatch, and most communities in California have waiting lists for home delivered meals.

The Assembly Subcommittee is considering a $5.4 million budget augmentation for senior nutrition funding. This investment will save the state millions of dollars. Malnourished seniors take more medication, have higher rates of chronic medical conditions, and are more likely to fall and break bones. They also have hospital stays twice as long as well-nourished patients. Senior nutrition programs, especially home delivered meals, help people stay in their homes instead of a nursing home. It is estimated that the increase of $5.4 million dollars could save the state $61 million per year in reduced nursing home costs.

For more than 20 years, I have witnessed first-hand how senior nutrition programs provide more than just food. Last month, Karen, one of Serving Seniors’ home-delivered meal drivers, brought a meal to one of our clients, a 77-year-old senior living on $942 a month in a single room occupancy hotel in downtown San Diego. Karen found him unresponsive and immediately called paramedics.

Thankfully, he turned out to be okay. Later, when I visited him he expressed his gratitude for Karen’s quick intervention; and also shared that the meals “are a godsend” and that Karen’s visits and positive attitude “lift his spirits.” This is one of the many reasons I advocate for our most vulnerable population.


  • Gary says:

    Great, heart-warming story.

  • Tracy Huddleson says:

    I don’t know the statistics on state support for low-income children in this way, but vulnerable seniors surely deserve as much consideration.

    • Marian Last says:

      Children’s Nutrition programs do exist under the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) which are typically administered by local school districts and some Parks and Recreation programs. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are available. There appears to be an abundance of funds. Sadly, programs are underutilized. USDA reported that there was a decrease nationwide (10,000,000 approx.) in children’s meals served from April 2015 to March 2016.

  • Marian Last says:

    Bravo to all of efforts in advocating for all of us!!
    The domino effect of food insecurity on chronic health issues such as heart disease and depression are preventable. Senior meal programs in concert with other social service networks have had an enormous impact in helping seniors remain in their homes. Home delivered meals add that personal touch and intuition in observing the welfare of those we care for. Bottom line, these services prevent unnecessary or premature placement in facilities costing 10’s of thousands of public benefit dollars annually.

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