Beginning in January of 2011, the first Baby Boomers began the transition into senior citizen-hood with their 65th birthdays. Many of those entering this phase in need of financial or other forms of assistance have found themselves on a waiting list for help from local and state agencies.

There has been a nationwide cut in funding for programs like these. According to estimates from the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, the sequester earlier this year chopped, among other things, 4 million home-delivered meals and nearly two million senior transportation rides nationwide. Personal care services were denied to 1.5 million seniors, almost 485,000 lost access to health promotion and disease prevention programs and 290,000 senior households lost LIHEAP energy assistance (during one of the hottest summers on record in many states). There have also been deep cuts to mental health care services.

The White House projects that Louisiana will lose approximately $488,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors as a result of sequestration.

"Fortunately, we do not have a waiting list of citizens needing help, but sequestration could change that," Reggie DeFreese, Morehouse Council on Aging Director said. 'The MCOA is currently able to help everyone fitting the criteria for services."

The MCOA receives funding from government grants and contracts. The agency also works with Bingo Gold, which is a local video bingo hall where various charities provide workers to be on-site calling bingo and in return, the charities share in the profits of the video portion. Some funding is received through United Way and individual contributions.

While several MCOA services are generally known to the public like the Meals on Wheels and Congregate Meals, many are not, such as the Homemaker program and the Caregiver service. The agency covers all of Morehouse Parish, with the main site located at 735 Washburn and satellite meals sites at the Collinston Health Unit and on the Hilltop. MCOA operates one senior center, three nutrition sites and an elderly housing complex. They also sponsor five low income housing projects.

DeFreese said the Meals on Wheels program provides meals 250 days a year, serves around 45,000 hot and cold meals a year.

“There is no fee for any of our services provided, however contributions are accepted and play a huge role in the continuation of services," DeFreese said.

Waiting lists statewide

Louisiana's assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, Hugh Eley, said in a recent phone interview that his office has noted a “steady increase in requests for services over the past six or seven years.” He said upwards of 6,000 people have been added to the list of those being served since 2009. “And the waiting list continues to grow,” he said. The Office of Aging and Adult Services, within the DHH, serves approximately 55,000 clients annually, 65 percent of whom are seniors. The OAAS, through Medicaid funding, assists applicants in finding or listing a home, provides assistance toward placement in nursing homes, intermediate care facilities or assisted living facilities and also provides in-home assistance. Other services include Adult Protective Services and respite.

Eley said it is difficult for his office to find people to do home repairs or modifications that would assist more seniors to live independently. He also cited a shortage in respite care providers, transportation and affordable assisted living. “Assisted living seems to be something only those with a higher income can afford,” he said. “If we could have a more middle-income model for assisted living, I think that would help a lot of people.”