Square meal deal

How can it be that for 40 years the city in the region with the populace most dependent on the Meals on Wheels senior nutrition program, Norwich, has ignored its responsibility to help pay, leaving it to other communities to supplement the cost?

It appears the only answer - and it's not a good one - is that is how it has always been. Now Norwich is finally contributing, but only after matters reached a crisis point and with strings attached that don't make much sense.

The Thames Valley Council for Community Action runs the program for 36 towns in eastern Connecticut. Four days a week the silver Meals on Wheels trucks deliver nutritionally balanced meals to elderly citizens in need across the region.

The federal government provides the bulk of funding, but TVCCA asks towns to subsidize the cost, currently at the rate of 85 cents per meal. As Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette reported Tuesday, since 1973 Norwich has rejected or simply ignored the request. Yet the meals continue, with the 122 clients served in Norwich this year the largest in the region.

Things reached a breaking point, however, when federal sequestration cuts cost the program $66,000 this year and resulted in the layoff of 12 Meals on Wheels drivers. Given the cuts, and Norwich's continued refusal to provide a subsidy, the program reduced deliveries to Norwich clients last week from four days a week to one, with frozen meals left for the missed days.

This is no way to treat needy senior citizens, many having spent their lives serving their community, but who lack the financial resources to fully care for themselves.

On Monday the Norwich City Council introduced an ordinance to pay the $18,000 TVCCA requested, which would allow four-day deliveries to resume. A public hearing and council vote are scheduled for Nov. 4.

But about those attached strings. The ordinance accompanying the expenditure requires reducing the Norwich contribution by any alternative funding the TVCCA program may receive. Why should Norwich receive this special treatment, particularly given its record? If more money appears, every town's subsidies should shrink proportionately. In any event, it appears having too much money will not become a problem anytime soon.

The council should also commit to paying its fair share in future years. Skipping its contribution is an inglorious 40-year record Norwich needs to break for good.

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