Service cuts probable for CHEER center

Senior services could be cut in Sussex County because of level funding at the state and CHEER’s rising costs. State officials told CHEER to expect $1.07 million in grants and aid for its nutrition program from the 2007 fiscal-year state budget (which must be passed by today) — the same amount the senior services non-profit organization received last year.
CHEER Deputy Director John Culp petitioned Sussex County Council for relief but if help doesn’t come from the state or county governments, meals and transportation for elderly residents of Sussex County will be cut in the coming year. Governmental transportation funding has not been increased in four years, Culp said.

“Somebody is going to be furious,” Culp told the Coastal Point. “It’s not going to be pretty and we’re not happy we have to do it.”

At its seven senior centers across Sussex County last year, CHEER handed out 92,000 meals to seniors, 73 percent of whom live below the poverty level. With the expected decrease in services, that number would be cut to 78,428.

Additionally, some 400 volunteers served 106,600 meals to seniors in the majority of Sussex County last year — excluding Lewes and Rehoboth, which provide their own senior services. That number would be cut to 78,475. One bus will also be shut down at the Roxana location, eliminating 8,000 annual trips bringing senior residents to or from the center.

Culp said that CHEER would possibly use a point system in determining who needs the mealsat home the most. At the seven centers, food might be served on a first-come-first-served basis, or seniors wishing to eat might have to make reservations. Home Services — helping homebound seniors with things such as cooking, dressing and bathing — would also be decreased by 3,500 hours if funding comes in as expected. CHEER’s clientele averages almost 80 years old.

“I don’t see how they’re going to do this. It’s horrible,” said Sheree Stephens, the Ocean View CHEER Center director. “These are the people that fought for our country. They’re the ones that built our country. We wouldn’t be here if not for them. Now we’re not going to feed them?”

In the past year, CHEER’s fuel costs have risen by 50 percent, insurance costs have risen 20 percent and the organization plans a moderate 2.5 percent pay increase to its 58 full-time and 130 part-time workers in hopes of retaining employees.

Those rising costs and level funding might force the aforementioned decrease in services. Delaware State Sen. George Bunting (D-Bethany Beach) said that many non-profit organizations find themselves in similar situations as CHEER and the “state’s only got so much to go around.

“This is a Sussex County issue,” Bunting said. “They should be going to the county, and County Council should be stepping up to the plate.”

“That’s the Senator’s opinion,” Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels said of Bunting’s comments. “He’s entitled to it.”

The county deferred its decision on about a dozen grant requests heard at last week’s budget hearing until after the General Assembly’s session ends today. CHEER Executive Director Arlene Littleton said that if state funds come as projected, the county is the organization’s last hope before having to cut services.

“This is a year like I’ve never seen before,” Littleton said. “We’re working with all of our funding sources to preserve all of the services we can. We’re doing everything we can.”

Littleton said that CHEER has already received more than $344,000 in donations and from fundraising efforts, and is projecting that number to reach almost $700,000 by the end of the organization’s fiscal year in September. But she said it will be difficult for CHEER to raise any money on its own, considering all of the money raising efforts already in place. And bettering relations between Sussex County and the state on funding issues could be impossible, she said.

“There are not a lot of warm fuzzy feelings between the state and the county,” Littleton said. “Change is hard in Sussex County. I think the county resents a lot of things. But that problem is bigger than me. There’s not a whole lot we can do now.”

Still, she added, “You can tell a lot about a society by how they treat their old people.”