Funding cut for Snohomish County senior centers

by: Maria Guerrero Updated:

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SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. - Six community centers that provide services, food and activities for senior citizens in Snohomish County have been dealt a big blow.

They just found out funding they have received for decades from the United Way of Snohomish County is not an option in the fall.

While the move did not come as a complete shock to Farrell Fleming, executive director of the Edmonds Senior Center, he worries about the impact to other centers.

Inside the Edmonds Senior Center along the waterfront, there were stacked chairs and empty rooms Sunday morning.

But the center will come alive during the week as the area’s senior citizens file in for daily activities and services.

"In this room there would be ping-pong here, there'd be a group having coffee and tea over here," Fleming said, pointing to different spots in a large room.

He says the center will be out nearly $30,000 in funding in 2017.

"The United Way has decided with its new focus on breaking the cycle of poverty to not fund any of us," he said.

Ironic and a problem, Fleming says, because of the 300 people they serve every single day.

"The vast majority of the people at the senior centers in this county are genuinely low income and many (are) really extremely low income and just on the edge of being homeless.”

Seniors pay $25 a year for membership.

For many, he says, the center offers them their one big meal of the day.

"It's really a crucial place," Fleming said. 

KIRO 7 News asked the president and CEO of United Way of Snohomish County to answer to the concerns that Fleming raises.

Asked about the decision to end the decades-long relationship funding the centers when an increasing number of seniors are low income, Dennis Smith said, “We are very interested in serving and responding to issues of poverty across the life cycle."

Smith says the United Way is providing Senior Services of Snohomish County with $55,000 for aging, disability and food resources.

Smith adds 107 programs applied for funding, but with $2 million from the community to invest, only 56 programs were approved.

They include services for the homeless, unemployed and disabled and for early education programs.

“There never are enough dollars in any cycle anytime to give out to our community," Smith said.

Asked if membership fees will go up to cover the loss of funding, Fleming said, "No."

“Fees will not go up. We'll look for other grants, we'll increase our fundraising,” he said.

The Edmonds Senior Center says they can survive this loss of funding but there is concern about other centers in the county.

“The smaller the centers ... in Snohomish, I'm more concerned about them," Fleming said.

“This will mean finding more  money, just to keep the same level of services we provide. Obviously, if we don’t, services will suffer, and in many cases, to those low income population (many of which are seniors), those same people  who United Way claim they want to help with eliminating poverty,” said Bob Dvorak, executive director of the Snohomish Senior Center.

“This will definitely affect our budget despite the fact we are a very large senior center and the largest in Washington state, funding is a continual challenge,” said the executive director of the Northshore Senior Center, Danette Klemens.

Jacob McGee, executive director of the East County Senior Center, echoed his colleague’s sentiments.

“Losing $30,000 will hurt the senior center. Some recent staffing changes will lessen the impact to ECSC in the short term, but going forward we will have to make up this shortfall in other ways. This means more grants, more fundraising and more asking,” he said.

The United Way says the decision have been made by their board and cannot be reconsidered.

There’s also a possibility that the loss of funding could happen for three years, based on UW’s funding cycle.

“We again will try to invest across the community in the best ways we can," Smith said.

Fleming said feels this could have a lasting impact on the community.

"If you just rule out seniors as a group and say in a way 'we're not going to fund any of that' the message starts to be seniors really don't count ... and we're really fearful of the tone that that sets in the community," he said.

"Seniors are not only a significant part of the problem but in an important part of the solution to poverty and to poor people ... from caring for grandchildren to functioning as volunteers at food banks and all sorts of ways,” Fleming said. “So seniors are really both interestingly enough part of the problem but also part of the solution."