Torrance County’s senior services see budget cuts

Torrance County chipped in $30,000 to fund its senior services program, which is contracted to Presbyterian Medical Services after its regional director told the county commission about changes to the way senior programs are funded by the state.

Cheri Nipp told commissioners that “legislative action [is] going to have a tremendous effect on our seniors.” New requirements issuing from the Legislature mean that the state will not fund senior programs based on actual cost, but according to a formula.

What are called “congregant meals,” or those meals prepared and eaten at the senior center, will be funded at $4 per meal, and home-delivered meals will be funded at $6 each, Nipp said. She said the cost to PMS is $12 a meal.

Transportation will be funded at $10 a trip. “After that they went into every service line that they fund,” Nipp said, adding that the changes apply statewide.

“I want to make it really, really clear,” she said. “This isn’t that the Long Term and Aging Department is cutting funds, and it’s not PMS cutting funds. It’s nothing but your legislators saying they will no longer fund senior programs based on cost.”

She said there was “a little talk” about a move that would have given “a few more dollars” to rural programs like the one in Torrance County. “That was done away with.”

Nipp said PMS had “banked on” additional funding when it prepared its annual proposal to run the Torrance County program. She said the goal of the mandate was “to push counties to pick up more of the tab” for funding senior services.

She said she is looking for additional funding, mentioning a $44,000 United Way grant she is applying for. She said she would ask the municipalities for additional funding also. PMS manages three senior centers, one in Mountainair, one in Estancia and one in Moriarty.

“PMS is committed” to Torrance County, Nipp said. “We do not want to back away from this. They only gave us two weeks, and we have to give them an answer this Friday.”

The county voted to fund the senior program with an additional $30,000, which will cover the cost of utilities and custodial services for the buildings. Vehicle maintenance is another area that PMS could look to the county for financial help, she said.

The commission quickly agreed to add extra funding, while Nipp encouraged everyone at the meeting to call their legislators.

In addition to meals, the program provides transportation to seniors without vehicles or who can’t drive. Commissioner Jim Frost is employed by PMS as a driver, and said that he thinks sometimes drivers might be the only people a shut-in senior sees in a day.

“It’s a debt we owe people who went before us,” Nipp said. “It doesn’t feel good right now but it’s a global and a moral obligation to those who walked before us.”

She continued, “What can we do to turn this around? Can enough people call? The voices have to be heard from the grassroots. … You can’t treat a rural program of this nature the way you’d treat Sandoval County. Maybe we can get emergency funds. We can speak loudly.”