While Spring Grove's Senior Dining site has been spared from the ax of federal sequestration cuts in 2014, another senior dining site in Houston County, the Houston site, will close effective Jan. 1, 2014. Meals on Wheels in Houston will be spared from the cuts.

For the past 40 years, Semcac has sponsored senior noon meal service for persons 60 years of age or older. The dining sites offer opportunities for socialization, volunteering, education and are links to other community services that promote independent living. Diners "donate" toward the meal with federal, state and local funds picking up the remainder of the cost. The City of Houston has generously donated the space in which to conduct the program.

"This is the biggest cut we have had in the 40 years this program has been around," said Debbie Betthauser, Semcac's Senior Services Director. She said the decision to close the Houston site was difficult, but one they needed to make because of the large 16 percent cut in funding they will be working with in 2014. "There's no way I can generate revenue locally to support that...so we're going to do our very best to keep the other sites open and then we've got a plan to re-evaluate (the remaining programs again) in the middle of next year."

What continues to worry Betthauser is the future on the congregant senior dining sites in the future under the federal sequestration cuts. "Time will tell whether the congregant program will survive these tremendous cuts...if the sequestration is not resolved, there will be a further cut next year. It is affecting the local senior now."

Houston is one of four of Semcac's senior dining sites that will close in 2014. The factors in determining which senior dining sites to close included utilization data (who and how many use the program on a regular basis), the number of low income users and the number of people at nutrition risk that use the program(s). "The sites that don't serve those people in need...those are the ones that are targeted to close here. It's just a really, really sad thing."

In the Oct. 16 issue of The Herald, Spring Grove Senior Dining site co-manager Kari Olson spoke with concern about the relatively low use the site at the American Legion receives with serving only about six to twelve diners each day. Spring Grove's senior dining site may have been spared this round, but Betthauser cannot guarantee that it will survive the cuts if they continue. "I'm hoping Spring Grove will be the long standing senior dining site of ours - but I can't say that it will be."

Semcac plans to give seniors and the public an opportunity to have discussions with program staff and share information related to the site closure in Houston. A meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2nd, 2013 at 12:30 p.m. at the Houston Community Center basement. All interested persons are invited to attend.