Funding for senior meals rejected by Mission board

The Mission Housing Authority board again failed to secure $40,000 in funding for services at a senior center on Wednesday after two board members refused to agree to the requirements set by the agency that funds the services.

The Area Agency on Aging — or AAA — provides $40,000 to Mission Housing Authority for three part-time employees that enable specific services at the senior center at the Mission Palm Plaza Development.

Among those services is a meal program where seniors, including those who are not tenants of the Mission Housing Authority, are served meals and dine together at the senior center.

AAA funds three part-time employees including one who served the meals to the elderly and a driver that transported residents to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, etc, according to Joel Gonzalez, the executive director of the Mission Housing Authority.

“The $40,000 was really something that was totally, totally devoted for the elderly,” Gonzalez said.

The funding from AAA is contingent on those services being available to the public. Currently, only five non-housing authority tenants participate in the service.

However, during Wednesday’s meeting, the board failed to authorize sending a letter to AAA, assuring them they would continue to allow outsiders to participate. Without that assurance, they’ll no longer receive funding from AAA beginning Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year.

That means no more hot meals being served to the elderly, Gonzalez said.

“Now the meals, possibly we could convert them to home-delivered type of meals which are the ones that come already packaged up,” he said. “So it’s not served it’s just ready and delivered to the residents.”

However, Gonzalez saw that alternative as a downgrade to the current practice.

“Our main thing is that we need the elderly to congregate and to socialize with each other and that’s what we would be losing,” he said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Board members Irma Flores Lopez and Connie Garza voted against sending the letter to AAA in order to secure the funding.

With Board member Ricardo Garcia absent from the meeting and Board member Guadalupe Ozuna abstaining from the vote, the measure failed. Chairman Romeo de la Garza did not vote as he only votes in the case of a tie.

At a previous board meeting held on Sept. 3, Garza questioned whether allowing non-housing authority tenants to participate was a violation of the policies set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency that oversees the housing authority.

However, HUD responded in an email that they found no outright violation, according to Jaime Ayala, the deputy executive director of the housing authority.

Ayala added that HUD said they would leave it up to the board members to decide whether or not to continue their current practice of allowing all senior citizens in the community to participate.

But during that Sept. 3 meeting, Garza, who also sits on the AAA board, said she favored only allowing housing authority tenants to participate as a way to avoid legal troubles.

“If this center is open to the public, we will need to comply with health and safety requirements as well as permits and trained staff,” Garza said at the time. “Ultimately, if there’s any liability it’s us who vote and we are going to take with that the liability that comes with it.”

Gonzalez, though, pushed back on that argument, saying that the housing authority was covered through their insurance for all the individuals who participate in the meal service, including the five-non housing authority tenants.

“So there was really technically no liability or no possibility that we would have a problem,” he said. “We’ve never, in the time that I’ve been there, never had a problem.”

Garza, however, later clarified that she was concerned of people who aren’t tenants of the housing authority possibly taking advantage of the elderly.

“By no means does that mean we do not support services for the elderly, that we want the residents to be without meals — that is not our position,” she said. “I have witnessed time and time again how the elderly can be manipulated and be taken advantage of and we want to limit that exposure.”

Garza pointed out that there were other possible funding sources they could use to continue serving meals to the tenants.

“To me, the safety of our elderly is of the outmost importance,” she said, “and if we have other funding sources, then let’s take advantage of those other funding sources and let the service continue.”