Two years ago, Marianne Wall was able to serve fresh, warm lunches to nearly 80 senior citizens a day as the director of the Thomas J. Riley Senior Center in Westwood.
Now, the center — a popular place for local seniors to socialize, enjoy activities and get something wholesome to eat — is down to just 40 meals a day, Wall said.
Budget cuts, she said, are to blame.
For roughly three years, senior citizens in North Jersey have been affected by sweeping congressional cuts to a popular federal grant program, leaving towns already working with tight budgets — and in some cases, even the seniors themselves — to make up the difference.
“The federal government has cut these programs pretty considerably,” said Bergen County spokesman Joseph Appio. “I understand volunteers help out to make ends meet at these places, and we are very concerned about this.”
The Community Development Block Grant program — one of the longest-running in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s history — funds local community development, affordable housing, anti-poverty programs, infrastructure improvements, and senior centers and programs.
Congress passed a 2012 budget that reduced funding for the program by 7.9 percent, according to figures from the White House.
In 2012, Bergen County received more than $8 million in block grants from the federal government, with $702,000 going directly to senior programs, county records show. That’s a decrease from the $900,000 designated for senior-specific programs in 2010. Funding for 2011 was higher than normal — close to $2 million — due to construction projects and improvements at some area senior centers.
Overall, the CDBG grants have been on a steady decline since 2010 when the county received close to $12 million and $9.8 million in 2011, according to figures from Bergen County.
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Cuts in federal aid hurting NJ senior centers