Senior Center expresses concerns about funding

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Members of the Senior Commission met March 4 to discuss their funding options moving forward.

Prime Time director Kelly Arndt, head of table, and Mayor Mark Meadows, left of Arndt, stressed the importance of funding at the Seniors Commission meeting April 4.

By Chloe Kiple
Entirely East Lansing

EAST LANSING— Residents are taxed to provide resources for citizens 60 years and older, but sometimes, old legislation makes it difficult for that money to make it back to local senior centers.

Kelly Arndt, Prime Time Senior Center director, said that she plans to address the Tri County Area Agency on Aging that distributes federal funding intended for senior citizens programming under the Older Americans Act of 1965. In order to receive funds, municipally run senior centers need to go through the lengthy process of applying for a grant.

“We put out a public notice that funds are available, and we invite different organizations to apply,” said Tri County Area on Aging Agency communication relations specialist and grant manager, Tammy Lemmers. “It’s a competitive process.”

Funding decisions are based on the applicant’s capacity to accomplish the tasks set forth in their application and how many people they service. Lemmers said that the agency calls this funding a contract, not a grant. She later said, however, that it is the agency’s grant manager who decides which applicants are funded.

Regardless of its designation, Arndt says that applying for funding is difficult for small senior centers because the application process is arduous.

“They’re so labor intensive…the small senior centers with only one staffer, they’re not going to be able to do it,” said Arndt. “I think it is [intentional]… so that people say, ‘Ugh, never mind.’” 

 Prime Time employs five staffers and has a team of over 120 volunteers. They have been able to afford the time to apply for the grants. In 2013, Prime Time received a three-year, $7,000 annual grant. At the time, they were the only senior center in the area that received funding. Ardnt said that other senior centers might not have even known about the availability of funding.

“It speaks volumes that … we’re the only one to get funding,” said Arndt. “The grant was…my own initiative.”

Arndt serves as the legislative chair on the Michigan Association of Senior Centers. She will ask other association members to start questioning their local area agencies about this funding.

Many local communities, including Okemos, have turned to millages instead of grants to fund their senior programming. East Lansing has avoided this route because it would tax the citizens once under the Older Americans Act and another time under the millage.

“If you’re giving money, it should be coming back, you shouldn’t have to have a millage,” said East Lansing Senior Commission member Alice Martin. “That money should be trickling down.”

At the Senior Commission meeting April 4, Mayor Mark Meadows told Arndt to use her political power make change.

“You need to work through your association…that would be more effective,” said Meadows. “Then, the state can put pressure on the area agencies.

The Prime Time Senior center offers more than 200 programs in fitness, the arts, nature and technology. The center caters to some of the city’s 5,000 citizens 55 years and older.

 “I want this to be my legacy, that money will get to down to the local senior centers,” said Arndt. “We deserve more than this.”

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