Pandemic-era meal delivery program is set to end. Thousands of L.A. seniors could go hungry

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Tim Icely did everything he was expected to do to prevention up for retirement. He worked 27 years successful hospitality and edifice guidance earlier he was furloughed during nan pandemic and forced to discontinue astatine 74.

Icely is now 76, azygous pinch nary dependents and nary spouse, surviving connected his ain successful Van Nuys. Half of his Social Security cheque goes toward rent, and sometimes it feels arsenic though he’s tiptoeing connected nan separator of disaster.

“I’m excessively rich | for astir of these [poverty] programs,” said Icely, who doesn’t suffice for CalFresh, California’s nutrient stamps.

But Icely has kept hunger astatine bay acknowledgment to 5 free meals he gets astatine nan commencement of each week done Los Angeles’ Rapid Response Senior Meals Program, an effort launched during nan pandemic to thief low-income and homebound seniors. The home-delivered meals supplement his fare astatine a clip erstwhile skyrocketing ostentation is ballooning his market fund to $200 a month.

Icely is 1 of 5,800 seniors astatine consequence of losing this nutrient assets because nan programme is scheduled to expire this autumn and nan metropolis whitethorn beryllium hard-pressed to widen it because of a looming fund deficit. The program, which was first authorized past twelvemonth pinch an $11-million budget, tin proceed if nan City Council tin find backing to widen it.

“It’s imperative that nan metropolis ensures that our susceptible seniors do not spell hungry,” Councilmember Heather Hutt said successful a statement. Hutt projected a motion to nan council’s Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee to reallocate $8 cardinal from fund reserves to widen this programme done nan adjacent fiscal year.

The chair of nan committee, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, responded by asking nan metropolis Department of Aging to measure nan position of nan program, nan eligibility requirements, different forms of backing and replacement repast programs.

This programme “was created during COVID to thief get meals to group successful isolation. It was ne'er meant to proceed successful perpetuity,” Blumenfield’s communications director, Jake Flynn, said by email.

Food repast transportation programs were effective during nan pandemic, said Kayla de la Haye, head of USC’s Institute for Food System Equity. Food insecurity among seniors didn’t spike arsenic it did among young adults, she said. And she attributes that to nan city’s “targeted, effective programs for nan seniors for illustration location transportation of nutrient that sewage scaled up truthful quickly” during stay-at-home orders.

As pandemic restrictions person lifted, she said, it’s go little perfect for L.A. to salary for these types of services.

“There’s downsides to location transportation of food, and societal isolation is 1 of them,” said De la Haye. Studies person shown that loneliness among seniors tin lead to adverse wellness risks. Then there’s nan matter of cost, she said, noting that it’s cheaper to service meals successful group settings.

In a report from City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo, he advised against continuing nan programme because of fund constraints. It costs nan metropolis astir $9.20 per repast to reimburse contractors specified arsenic Revolution Foods and Everytable.

But De la Haye does not support removing programs specified arsenic Rapid Response Senior Meals. She said they tin beryllium effective successful addressing nan hidden nutrient insecurity of seniors who can’t time off their homes and look greater consequence successful crowded markets and eateries arsenic caller COVID-19 variants are still developing. And she worries that cutting specified programs abruptly could time off down low-income seniors successful their top infinitesimal of need.

“Things are truthful overmuch harder now than they were moreover successful nan first months of nan pandemic, pinch nutrient prices, inflation, rent prices,” De la Haye said. Her research successful 2023 recovered that 44% of low-income households successful L.A. faced nutrient insecurity, nan highest complaint successful nan past decade.

“We’re benignant of astatine nan worst nutrient insecurity rates we’ve seen successful nan region for a while,” she said. A 2017 study by nan Congressional Hunger Center estimated that 1.5 cardinal L.A. County residents are nutrient insecure — 11% of whom are seniors, aliases astir 165,000 people.

The Rapid Response Senior Meals Program is conscionable 1 of galore nutrient transportation services successful L.A. County trying to reside this increasing need, but nan hold database for that programme is now astatine 1,400 seniors, according to Revolution Foods.

“Los Angeles is simply a uniquely car-centric city, and galore seniors who don’t suffice arsenic ‘homebound’ still cannot thrust aliases safely locomotion nan distances required to meet their regular needs for meals,” Dominic Engels, main executive of Revolution Foods, said successful a nationalist remark to nan Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee.

Amy Zhao, a societal services programme head astatine Chinatown Service Center, said she gets astatine slightest 2 to 3 calls a week from Chinese seniors asking astir nan Rapid Response Senior Meals Program. Many of nan elder residents successful Chinatown look a nutrient desert aft section market stores unopen down successful nan aftermath of Walmart’s presence and departure from nan historical neighborhood. She said it’s been much than 5 years since residents person had a market shop pinch caller produce.

According to De la Haye’s research, Black and Latino communities are deed hardest by nutrient insecurity, and Asian Americans successful peculiar are nan astir apt to look nutrition insecurity astatine 2.2 times nan complaint of achromatic residents of L.A. County. Nutrition insecurity is having constricted entree to patient and culturally applicable meals, which is associated pinch worse intelligence wellness and a consequence for diabetes.

“People successful this section area person to return nan autobus ... 30, 40 minutes distant to spell to Superior Grocers to bargain groceries,” Zhao said. “If they want to spell to get Asian groceries, 1 has to return nan autobus an hr to get to nan San Gabriel Valley.”

If nan City Council allows nan Rapid Response Senior Meals Program to end, De la Haye said, metropolis officials request to do much to reside nan guidelines issues of societal isolation and nutrient insecurity for seniors.

De la Haye is an advocator for walkable cities wherever group tin get their basal services wrong a 15-minute radius of their home. It mightiness beryllium a tube dream for L.A., but successful nan meantime, she’s been moving connected different solution: the launch of Open Access LA, which provides free resources and opportunities for section nutrient businesses.

“We conscionable don’t person autonomy complete nan nutrient we person locally,” De la Haye said. She said she wants nationalist officials to reimagine what a healthy, resilient and equitable nutrient situation looks like. She hopes that nan metropolis will put successful much semipermanent solutions to thief section entrepreneurs get a moving start.

There’s grounds that having much section folks progressive successful nutrient accumulation reaps benefits for a organization moreover successful a spot pinch municipality sprawl for illustration Los Angeles, De la Haye said. These section business are “able to amended meet nan needs of members of their organization and keeping profits local,” she said.

Source latimes