It is not unusual for a conversation with members of the older generation, particularly those in their lates 80s or 90s, to turn to recollections of “hard times” – times when money was hard to come by and necessities, not wants, were a priority.
Today members of that generation are finding themselves facing more “hard times” as inflation affects everything from energy costs to food prices.
Eighty-five-year-old Gertrude Fortenberry of the Liddieville community is among them.
Fortenberry participates in programs offered by the Franklin Parish Council on Aging at the Senior Center located in Winnsboro. Like other participants she takes part in the congregate meal service offered there and particularly enjoys the opportunities to visit with other participants, all of whom she considers friends.
But rising prices at the gas pump and grocery store have caused her to shift some of her priorities, including the number of days she travels from her home to the Senior Center.
According to the Consumer Price Index food at home rose 11.9 percent over the last 12 months, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 1979. The gasoline index increased 48.7 percent since last May.
For those like Fortenberry who live on a fixed income, in her case a Social Security check and small retirement from the school system, meeting basic needs requires careful planning.
“I did not come yesterday,” Fortenberry said explaining how she has cut back on the days she comes into town, meaning Winnsboro, and the Senior Center.
And on the days she does go to the center, she tries to make the best use of the trip, taking care of any errands on the same day, such as going to the bank, getting prescriptions filled or buying groceries.
“I try to make one trip and do everything that has to be done,” she said.
Referring to higher prices at the grocery store, Fortenberry said, “I get what I have to have now.”
She said she watches the prices of basics like milk and eggs closely and said referring to eggs, “What I used to pay $2 for are $3 now.”
She goes to a neighborhood meat processing business once a week, she said, to buy sausage at a better price and uses it to make red beans and rice one day, and for breakfast on others.
Like others on a fixed income, Fortenberry takes advantage of programs in addition to the Council on Aging which help supplement her food budget, something that is particularly helpful since her husband, Bobby, 86, is a cancer patient and there are out-of-pocket medical expenses which have to be met.
She gets food boxes offered through programs such as the LaSalle Community Action Program and Northeast Louisiana Food Bank, as well as through local churches.
“I applied for food stamps and have been denied three times,” she said.
She said she planned to appeal the decision, but said it was difficult to get help because of automation.
“There was a time you could go, and they would help you,” she said referring to a time when persons applying for assistance would visit in person with a caseworker.
Circumstances like those of Fortenberry are all-too-familiar to Kay Thompson, director of Franklin Parish COA. And as the agency faces rising costs as well, particularly in the area of transportation, her goal is to see that any available funds are used wisely.
Funds received through the American Recovery Plan have made it possible for the agency to expand and supplement services. Some $19,000 went to boost transportation and homemaking services, another $8,000 helped expand congregate meals.
Thompson pointed out, however, that homebound elderly are not able to take advantage of the services and extra donations received at the Senior Center from various civic organizations such as the Lions Club and Rotary Club.
“Our home-bound people don’t receive as much,” Thompson said.
Funds received through the American Recovery Plan made it possible for the agency to expand their home-delivered meal program which helps elderly who are not able to come to the Senior Center or meal sites located in Crowville or Wisner.
There is always a waiting list for the home-delivered meals, and the extra funds, some $20,000, were used by the COA to offer the service to 44 additional elderly who were on the list. While the extra funds are available, that number, added to the 54 already on the list, means more than 90 can be served in that way.
Another additional amount, $15,000, made it possible to offer an energy assistance program. The funds were divided to allot $250 per person to those who applied, with 60 people able to benefit.
Thompson said the agency expects to receive ARP funds through 2023, but as costs rise and those funds go away, she will have to keep a close eye on things.
The COA is a non-profit agency, with an annual budget based in part on a parish property tax millage which brings in about $217,000 a year, and by intergovernmental funds of about $260,000 administered by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Elderly affairs.
Referring to transportation services offered by the COA, Thompson noted the agency had made 3,471 trips so far this year, which includes providing transportation to the Senior Center and to doctor’s appointments.
“We haven’t had to bundle the clients that much,” Thompson said referring to how trips are planned for doctors’ appointments to avoid long waits for the return trip which is a hardship on older persons.
She said in the future if prices continue to rise, changes may have to be made, including the number of days transportation is provided to the center.
“We may have to pick them up only thee days a week and supplement their food on the other days,” she said.
“It takes money to deliver the meals and for the homemakers to go out,” she added.
“We have to look at all that and how we can best use our funds to serve the most people,” she said.