Government shutdown jeopardizes funding for meals

By Tammy Keith Originally Published October 7, 2013 at 11:23 a.m.
Updated October 7, 2013 at 11:23 a.m.
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RUSSELLVILLE — Friendship Community Care, based in Russellville, spends almost $50,000 a month to provide meals to its clients — funding that is in jeopardy because of the government shutdown, said Theresa White, director of marketing and resource development for the nonprofit organization.

“Their food — that’s the primary hit right now,” she said. “For one month, just for meals, is close to $50,000.”

The nonprofit organization has programs in 47 counties in Arkansas that serve intellectually and developmentally disabled children and adults and provide services for senior citizens.

White said Friendship Community Care gets reimbursed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the meals it serves.

At least it did.

“I don’t want to cry wolf, but it’s a big deal,” White said.

As of press time Thursday, no agreement had been reached by Congress on a budget for the new fiscal year that began Tuesday.

White said Friendship Community Care received an email from Tonya L. Williams, a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services. It said, in part, “Beginning Oct. 1, you are not authorized — and you will not be paid for — services funded by USDA for the special nutrition programs.”

The email said the providers would be notified “when, and if, funding is available again.”

Friendship Community Care has therapeutic preschools in Russellville and Danville, as well as in five other cities.

“We serve 5,925 meals [per month], just in our pediatric sites,” White said. “That’s a lot of meals.”

White said Friendship Community Care is committed to continuing to provide meals.

“We will not send children home hungry,” she said. “Most of them come from low-income families already, and most of them depend on us to feed them breakfast and lunch each day.”

White said the organization will continue to meet USDA guidelines for the meals, “even though they’re not sending us money.”

“We’re just going to have to come up with it,” she said. White said Friendship Community Care is “financially solvent.”

In addition to children, Friendship Community Care provides Meals on Wheels and senior services in Yell, Pope and Johnson counties.

“We provide over 5,000 meals a month to home-bound seniors,” White said.

“If we do not feed them every day, many of them will not eat. Some of them, we’re the only living, breathing human being they see every day, the person who brings food.”

Tim Herr, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging of West Central Arkansas, sent an email to all senior-center providers.

He wrote, in part, “I want to assure you that our agency will do everything we can to continue to pay you for services and keep your cash flow going. If necessary, our agency will utilize some of our cash reserves to keep the boat afloat for as long as we can until the ‘shutdown’ ends.”

White said organizations like Friendship Community Care and the Area Agency on Aging don’t have much in the way of cash reserves.

“[Friendship] is a nonprofit that’s feeding seniors who are homebound, and for a nonprofit to have to reach into its reserves is ridiculous. … The only reserves you have are basically what you have to have to keep the organization going.”

Cindy Mahan, CEO of Friendship Community Care, said, “Of course we will continue providing meals to children and seniors.

“We are a charity organization, and after 44 years since our inception, our donations, our extra dollars, go to our consumers for their benefit. We are committed to our families and people we serve.”

She said Friendship Community Care is governed by a board of directors and “will assess monthly the important needs of all our consumers.”

Friendship Community Care has apartments for low-income senior citizens and intellectually disabled adults, as well as group homes all funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We don’t know about our apartments, yet, whether that’s going to be affected,” White said.

White said that when she called the Friendship’s “HUD department,” she was told the government website was down, and Friendship’s employees had not received notification about funding.

“They’ve not received any communication at all from the national office, and we assume that’s because nobody is there, but we don’t know,” she said.

Another area that might be impacted is transportation, White said.

“We are currently waiting on critical vehicles that we get every year — a grant from the government. We don’t know if and when we’ll get those,” she said.

“We hope this is a very temporary situation,” White said of the shutdown.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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