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$3 million federal stimulus for elder nutrition

WASHINGTON – It was already known that Indian country would be eligible for approximately $5 billion through a combination of direct tribal funding, individual program benefits and enhanced bonding authority as part of the federal stimulus package. Now, more health-focused details of the law are emerging, with the White House announcing some substantial funding for elder nutrition programs.

On March 18, Vice President Joe Biden announced awards of $3 million in stimulus funding to support senior nutrition programs in Indian country. The funds are intended to provide meals to low-income elders.

Indian health experts have long been saying that federal budget constraints have forced tribes and states to limit community-based services and critical services for elders, including home-delivered meals.

Research indicates organizations that serve senior citizens have been forced to cut services and limit the number of meals served per week. Plus, the economic downturn has made it difficult for some seniors to afford healthy foods.

“Across the country, older Americans depend on senior centers and home delivery programs for regular, healthy meals,” Biden said in a statement.

“Today, more senior citizens are in need, but the programs they depend on are on the brink of reducing their services or closing down. The Recovery Act will help ensure older Americans are not forced to choose between paying bills and buying food.”

The National Indian Health Board reacted positively to the awards, with the organization’s chairman, Reno Keoni Franklin, saying, “This is a positive, first step in honoring and supporting our elders by promoting healthy living and disease prevention through improved nutrition.”

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“This funding is proof that the health issues facing our elders have been elevated and respected by the highest levels of the federal government,” added NIHB Executive Director Stacy Bohlen.

NIHB officials said it was through hard work of tribal leaders from across the country that the Obama administration and Congress heard calls for improving and supporting the healthy lives of Indian seniors.

The $3 million for Indian elders is part of a larger $65 million that will go toward providing nutrition at senior centers and other community sites and $32 million for home delivered nutrition services delivered to frail elders at home.

The White House said the funding for Native-focused nutrition programs will be made available in April.

It is expected to be awarded to 246 tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations – the ones that are regularly funded under the Older Americans Act. For tribes to qualify, they must be federally-recognized, and have 50 or more members, or they can form a consortium.

The White House noted that funding for nutrition programs for seniors in the Older Americans Act was initially authored and championed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion Recovery Act into law in February.