Signer Senior Center staff mulls impact of impending budget cuts

Enjoying a hot lunch at the Signer Senior Center in Arcadia are (clockwise from left) Pat Boedefeld, Theresa Prattz, Mary Self, Beverly Maxwell, June Hulsey and Doris Hall.

As Federal Republican leaders turn their attention from tax cuts to budget cuts and specifically such entitlements as Medicaid and Medicare, local agencies all over the country have begun to parse what that might mean for the people they serve.

One such entity is the Signer Senior Center in Arcadia.  The center provides hot or frozen lunches to local seniors and is funded largely through Aging Matters (formerly the Area Agency on Aging) and Medicaid reimbursements.

The non-profit center is run on a shoe-string and has little in the way of reserve funds.  In fact, in the months the insurance premiums come due, the center will hold fundraising meals to get by.

“The fundraisers get us through that month, but there is no safety net,” said Center Administrator Billie Ricketts. “If it wasn’t for Medicaid reimbursement, I don’t know how we could afford to stay open.”

But such cuts are almost a certainty in 2018 as legislators scour the federal budget in search of cuts to offset the deficit-creating tax cuts.

“We’ve been talking to other senior centers and they are in the same boat we are,” Ricketts said. “We are still up in the air until we see what budget cuts are coming down the pike.  Aging matters doesn’t know what to expect either.”

On average, the center serves some 25 to 30 seniors a hot lunch five times per week at the site.  Another 65 meals are delivered to the homes of senior shut-ins or those who are otherwise unable to travel.  Yet another 25 meals are frozen and provided to people who are in the service area, but outside the delivery area. The clients arrange to pick up the meals at the center.

Signer Center has been in operation since 1974. The fact that some seniors in the community do not seem aware of the center and what it has to offer is a recurring frustration for the staff and volunteers.

“There are still people – if you can believe it – who say, ‘I didn’t know we had a senior citizen center in town.’ said Ricketts. “I honestly don’t know how they don’t know that!  Where have they been?”

Ricketts, one of four paid staff members, has been the administrator for over 18 years. 

“We have three kitchen staff and myself,” she said. “We have lots of volunteers.  We would not be able to do this without our volunteers.  They deliver our meals, serve as cashier, and serve on our County Council.”

A lunch will cost a local senior citizen (over the age of 60) $4.  If you are under 60 and a guest of a senior, the lunch will cost $6.

The center serves as a social center, a place for basic health needs like blood pressure checks three times per month (in conjunction with the Iron County Health Department or Iron County Ambulance Services or participating local pharmacies.)  It is also a heated or air conditioned shelter for the community in inclement weather.

“We are part of their socialization – their church and us,” said Ricketts. “Most of them don’t work - they are retired – so this is where they come.”

The center volunteers also provide an unofficial check on the shut-ins it serves.

“Well, if we did not exist, there would be those who did not have anyone to check on them, because it isn’t just delivering the meal, ”Ricketts explained. “It is the interaction with our drivers. Sometimes we are the only ones they see all day long for a hug or a ‘How are you doing?’ or any kind of basic need. They let the drivers know, who in turn let me know, and we get them in contact with other agencies.  We all work together.”

The council has protested the possible cuts by contacting elected officials.

“We sent paper plates with the initials of our clients to our Representatives and Senators and asked them, ‘Whose meal are you going to cut?’” said Ricketts. “They said they support what we are trying to do and that 

they don’t want to cut our budget.  But they didn’t say they won’t (cut our budget).”

So the fundraising will continue.  The administrator said there are several ways the community can help keep the center and its services alive.

“We can take donations,” she said. “But the main thing would be to come through that door and eat lunch with us,” she said. That would be a real big help.”

Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The daily menu appears every week in The Mountain Echo.