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JOY Centers again faces budget concerns

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“I feel like the people who are in the program are in the program because they need the services,” says Monica Duran, executive director of the Chaves County JOY Centers, shown with Jerry Brewer in July 2017. (File Photo)

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A local senior services group faces the possibility of another round of budget difficulties, although representatives of the state said the situation is expected to ease later in the year when more federal money becomes available.

The Chaves County JOY Centers Inc., which has locations in Roswell, Hagerman, Midway and Lake Arthur, recently received notice that three of its federal programs will receive significantly less money — at least for now —than in the previous year, said Monica Duran, executive director of the organization.

“The difference that JOY Centers stands to lose from last fiscal year to this fiscal year is $178,579,” she said.

She added that, combined with last year’s 5.5 percent state funding reductions, this now represents a 20 percent cut over two years. In addition, state funding was reduced without explanation, she said.

Duran said that she and other providers have been told that additional federal money is coming.

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Typically federal funding is disbursed through the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services three times a year, in the summer around July 1, in the fall around October and in the spring around March.

“We don’t have anything in writing that says that they are actually going to give that money to PSA3 (Public Service Area 3) to make up that shortfall,” she said. “How can you go into a contract knowing that you don’t have enough money to run that program for the full year?”

She said the federal funding reductions affect three programs: congregate meals served, home-delivered meals and transportation. An example of the effects of the current reductions on just one program is that congregate meals received $141,903 in state-allocated federal funding last year, but just $69,358 this year, Duran said.

The contractor that works as the intermediary between the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department and the providers confirmed the situation and Duran’s statement that it affects the entire PSA3 region, which encompasses 11 counties, mostly on the eastern border of the state.

“It is not just Roswell,” said Tim Armer, the executive director of New Mexico North Central Economic Development District, which runs the intermediary group, Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging. “I believe this affects every single provider in the east. I don’t remember the exact number, but I think the area has about 20 providers.”

Armer stressed, however, that his group and others will do everything they can to ensure continued services to the elderly.

“The main thing we want to make sure is that seniors across the state, and especially those in the areas that will be impacted, know that the objective of everyone involved in this is that we want to make sure that they are not negatively impacted,” he said. “We will collaborate with everyone involved — with the direct providers, our contractors and the state — to make sure that seniors are not neglected in the services that are provided out there.”

Non-Metro manages the contracts not only for PSA3, but also for PSA4, which covers the southwest portion of the state and is seeing an increase in funding at this point.

Armer said that the state has started using a federal funding method to determine its allocations to the PSAs.

The Intrastate Funding Formula described in the department’s strategic plan determines funding distribution using many different factors, including the numbers of elderly served and income levels in the area, as determined from data obtained from U.S. Census surveys.

“Our hands are tied. The state has told us that is all the funding” available come July 1, he said. “It is disconcerting. We have tried to work with them (providers) as best as possible in how we distribute that money.”

He said his agency used to be able to spread funding among different service areas to meet budget needs, but that is not the case this year.

“We’ve all been told several times that there is more federal money coming this year, and we know there is, but how much each area will receive, that we do not know,” he said.

He added that his agency also has been instructed not to provide funding to agencies beyond what has been budgeted at this point by the state.

“We all know there is going to be additional federal dollars,” he said, “How much and how they will distribute it, we don’t know. We assume that also will be by the formula.”

Duran said she has spoken with local representatives of the state legislature and with Non-Metro and the Aging Department in search of answers.

As of Tuesday afternoon, she said, she had not yet received any guarantees about future funding or clear explanations of why the state funding reductions occurred.

“We are already providing so many services within Chaves County,” she said. “You are going to go back and cut people out of the program to make it work, and I feel like the people who are in the program are in the program because they need the services.”

Last fiscal year, from July to April, the organization provided 36,000 congregate meals, 65,923 home-delivered meals and 18,436 transports, she said. The JOY Centers also provides other services for the elderly, including housekeeping assistance, adult day care, and caregiver support services and companion services.

Duran said the current budget situation means that she has to plan to reduce each of the three federally-funded service areas by 45 percent, at least until the next funding allocation occurs.

A spokesman for the state Aging Department reiterated the state’s support for services for elderly and the fact that the providers will receive additional funding later in the year.

“The contracts between the Non-Metro AAA and local providers for state fiscal year 2019 (which begins July 1) were based only on funds currently allocated,” said Paul Rhien in an email response. “The contracts did not include projections for future federal funds for Title III (Older Americans Act) or Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP) expected in the next federal fiscal year (which begins October 1).”

Requests for further clarification were unanswered by press time.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.