Signal Hill will have to find a way to continue feeding its poorer senior citizens with a little less help from the Feds. At the Feb. 19 City Council meeting, Community Services Director Pilar Alcivar-McCoy reported to the Council that federal grant money available for its senior brown-bag program has been reduced to $8,756, an amount that is about $4,000 less than the previous year.
The shortfall is a significant hit to the community-services program that operates on a budget of $20,000 to provide groceries every other week to about 40 low-income seniors.
The staff tries its best to include fresh food and even proteins like meat and cheese in their bi-weekly grocery bags and not a lot of packaged food, according to the community-services director.
While the City is also supporting the senior food distribution with its general funds, less federal money means more pressure for the community-services department to seek out other revenue sources to keep the program alive. Alcivar-McCoy said in a follow-up interview Wednesday that her department would prefer to seek sponsorships to make up for the $4,000 shortfall and not ask for more money from the City’s general fund. The City has already budgeted $8,000 for the program for this year, according to the community-services director.
The program’s significance to the city’s poor senior community hit home for Vice Mayor Michael Noll, who remembered past luncheons that the city staff hosted for the seniors around Christmas time.
“It’s so heartwarming to see how appreciative they are of what staff has done,” Noll said at Tuesday’s Council meeting. “And they’ve become very close friends of staff, and it’s very well deserved and a wonderful program.”
Signal Hill resident and city council candidate Nancy Sciortino said she knew one woman in the program who is grateful for her share of groceries.
“And some of these senior citizens, they’re barely able to make rent,” Sciortino said. “And she looks forward to her bag…I think it’s a great cause, and I hope that we can just keep it up for them.”
Signal Hill only qualified this year to receive about $58,000 in federal money in the form of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Only a portion of this money could be spent on the senior food distribution program, and Alcivar-McCoy acknowledged that the amount of $8,756 is the maximum amount the City could allocate for the senior brown-bag program under the grant. The community-services director said that the remaining amount of grant money will be allocated to street and sidewalk improvements.
The total federal money available this fiscal year through these block grants has been reduced by nearly 32 percent, according to Alcivar-McCoy. She acknowledged Tuesday that there have been federal funding cuts, but she also explained how the grant money available to Signal Hill was reduced due to the changing demographics of the city. Both Alcivar-McCoy and Micheal Neal, who works for the consulting firm Willdan and manages the CDBG grant for Signal Hill, point to 2010 census data as one of the primary reasons behind the decrease in funds.
“Some of the key indicators that factor in the formula went the wrong direction for us,” Neal told the Council.
Councilmember Larry Forester acknowledged that the grant funds could only be used for needs of the low-income areas. He asked Neal to explain what the census data said about Signal Hill.
“Obviously, somehow, we are less needy than we were before?” Forester asked.
“Particularly in comparison to other communities,” Neal replied.
Alcivar-McCoy said in a follow-up telephone interview Wednesday that the program budgets about $500 a year for every senior in the program. Since the program is targeted to serve only low- and extremely low-income seniors, the community-services director emphasized how the staff does qualify the individual participants through an application program every year. She confirmed that this is the first time the City will be seeking large sponsorships to aid the senior food distribution program.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Tina Hansen suggested another route to help raise money.
“I mean, obviously, large sponsorships [are] nice,” Hansen said. However, the mayor thought there might be another avenue of help for the food program. She described how families or individuals could sponsor a senior in the community and how the effort could turn into a teachable moment.
“I think that leads to conversations,” Hansen said. “You know, especially with kids…that some people have more, and some people don’t, and…what needs to happen to make sure that everybody has enough.”
Other City Council highlightsf
Library anniversary Signal Hill Librarian Gail Ashbrooke announced that, in honor of the library’s 85th anniversary, the public has been invited to participate in “Signal Hill Reads Together,” a city-wide community reading program. Signal Hill author Marty Steere’s novel of space exploration, Sea of Crises, has been selected to launch the reading program. Steere will discuss his book at the Signal Hill Library on April 17. The library has planned other events around the theme of space.
Polling-place change Voters in Precinct 6450004A have been directed to vote in the General Municipal Election at the Family Church at 2094 Cherry Ave. These voters, who generally live in the neighborhoods east of Cherry Avenue and south of Skyline Drive, received a map in the sample booklet which incorrectly noted an old location, according to a staff report from City Clerk Kathee Pacheco. The voters have already been notified in writing of the polling-place change. The Council voted at the Feb. 19 meeting to send a phone reminder to voters in this precinct to vote at the Family Church on March 5.
Schedule change for Council meeting The next City Council meeting will take place on Wednesday, March 6 at 7pm in City Hall’s Council Chamber. The schedule has been changed due to the General Municipal Election that is scheduled for March 5.