The lack of a state budget means that some senior citizens will have a harder time getting fresh fruits and vegetables.
Since 2001, the state Department of Agriculture has administered vouchers yearly through the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The program, which is funded partially by the federal government and partially by the state, provides seniors who are at least 60 years old and whose incomes do not exceed 185 percent of the poverty line with one book with $18 worth of vouchers to buy produce at local farmers markets.
Since the legislature as yet to adopt of budget for this fiscal year, there is no money for the vouchers issued by the state, state Department of Agriculture spokesman Steve Jensen said.
Even when a state budget is adopted, it is unclear whether the program will be funded, he said.
“We won’t know if the funding is restored or not until a budget is passed and signed by the governor,” Jensen said.
Naugatuck Senior Center Director Harvey Frydman described the lack of funding as “heartbreaking.”
“I am disappointed because I know how much our seniors rely on the vouchers,” he said.
Frydman said he received an email last Friday, a few days after he had given out vouchers to some seniors, informing him that he could not give the vouchers out.
Jensen said the department didn’t know there wasn’t going to be funding for the program until last Friday.
“You never know until it happens,” Jensen said.
Frydman said the Naugatuck Senior Center has been distributing the vouchers since he first became director in 2005.
Frydman said the first year he gave out 35 voucher books. That number is now about 800 voucher books a year, he said.
“For some older adults and disabled people this is the only fresh vegetables and nutrition they can afford. It is stretching their limited budget,” Frydman said.
Frydman said the program also benefits farmers because the seniors buy their produce.
“It is a win-win situation that we hopefully won’t lose,” Frydman said.
Prospect Senior Center Director Lucy Smegielski said she had to tell seniors in town that they will not be receiving the voucher books.
Smegielski said the Prospect Senior Center gives out about 100 voucher books a year.
“With some seniors, during the winter, they can’t afford fresh vegetables. They look forward to using the vouchers during the summer. With these cuts it probably won’t happen again,” Smegielski said.
“They don’t eat all that healthy. They come here for nutritious meals,” Smegielski added. “They rely on the vouchers to supplement that.”
Beacon Falls Senior Center Director Bernadette Dione said the town wasn’t planning on participating in the voucher program this year.
Betty McCabe, a member of the Naugatuck Senior Center, has used the vouchers in previous years.
“It will be a lot harder to buy vegetables than it had to be. But then Connecticut is known for taking it out on the poor, sick and elderly,” said McCabe about the lack of funding for the vouchers.
Frydman said he doesn’t blame the Department of Agriculture but rather the legislators who failed to pass a budget.
“I would love to have state legislators come here to talk to seniors and tell them why the vouchers weren’t funded,” Frydman said. “This is affecting seniors throughout the state and our farmers. It’s heart-wrenching.”
“I have dealt with cutbacks. We live in tough times,” Frydman added. “But when you are taking a tomato away from a senior, come on.”