Nebraska's low–income seniors could be affected by devastating budget cuts to vital programs if Congress doesn't reach a sequestration deal by Friday.
Nutrition assistance programs for seniors in Nebraska – like Meals on Wheels – would lose about $121,000 in funds.
Fifty-nine–year–old Navy veteran Richard Conley has depended on the federally-funded program to give him the nutrients he needs to stay alive and healthy for the past 2 ½ years.
"Three years ago, I had a blood clot – a very serious blood clot – and I wasn't on Meals on Wheels at that time, but now that I'm on Meals on Wheels, I've had no problem with my blood level," Conley said.
Conley gets meals delivered to his home five days a week, and says the program – which provides free meals for low–income, homebound seniors – means security and better health.
"I just want to live a few more years," Conley said. "I've got grandchildren, and I want to do that."
But if Congress fails to reach an agreement on across–the–board federal budget cuts by Friday, the health of hundreds of thousands of elderly people across the country, like Conley, could be in serious jeopardy.
"Some of these people would probably need further medical assistance to maintain the quality of life," Glenda Parker, nutritional manager for Richard Young Hospital in Kearney, said. "Some people may be at the option where they have to go into an assisted living facility because they can't get that nutrition that they need at home."
But it's not just about the food. A lot of these seniors live alone, and having someone to check in on them on a daily basis is a huge relief.
"There's several clients that are on our route that the driver that delivers the meal may be the only person they see that day," Parker said.
"That's a good feeling, you know," Conley said. "Glenda called once like, 'We were worried about you. You didn't call in,' and I thought, 'No, I'm sorry, I just forgot.'"
Conley says the difference the program has made on his health and quality of life has been amazing.
"That one homecooked meal is a big boost, it really is. I don't know what would happen to me if I didn't have it – that's the thing, I'm afraid without it."
But without it, he may be, if Congress doesn't act soon.
"I'm really scared," Conley said. "Without those meals, I'm really scared."
The Kearney Meals on Wheels program receives approximately $4,000 a year in federal funding, which – in addition to grant money the program receives – provides 75 seniors one meal a day.
But if those cuts take effect Friday, there's no telling how many of those seniors will be forced to find a new way to get the food they need.
"Just knowing that they may not get that meal, and knowing that they need the meal, it's sad to think that we may not be there to serve them," Parker said.