People who eat lunch or dinner at area senior centers will have to contribute more of the $3.30 average cost of a meal than they do now, if the county cuts the Department of Aging's budget by the proposed $31,400.
However, staff and board members for the Department of Aging are hoping the seniors who can afford to pay more will do so, so that the seniors who can't can keep getting reduced cost meals.
Director Jolene Sullivan said the meals program serves two purposes -- nutrition and socialization.
The $31,400 in cuts include transportation and legal services, but members of the Commission on Aging at their meeting Thursday were most concerned about cuts in the meal program, on which many seniors rely for their main source of nutrition, members said.
"All the things money is spent on in this county, and to thinkthey would cut people who are hungry," said Vivian Nusbaum of Union Bridge, a member of the commission, which serves as an advisory board to the department and to the commissioners. "I just feel, hey, can't they come up with something else to cut?"
In defense of the commissioners, Sullivan and Assistant Director Janet Flora said the commissioners had asked what the impact of proposed cutbacks would be, rather than just handing them down.
Sullivan said thecuts would mean 2,000 fewer meals served at reduced cost to seniors;having to turn down about 150 seniors for legal aid; and cutting reduced-cost bus service by about four weeks a year.
Commission members James Schwartz of Finksburg and Richard Warehime of New Windsor asked Sullivan whether the department couldn't institute charges on a sliding scale based on income and need.
Sullivan said the federal Older Americans Act requires the department to serve anyone over 60, and doesn't allow them to charge for meals.
"We can only ask for acontribution," Sullivan said.
Flora said the program works bettersocially if people of all income levels use it, rather than if it had the stigma of being a welfare program.