In 2009, 6,891 older residents in Kentucky were on a waiting list to have meals delivered to their homes through a Meals on Wheels program or to be able to eat at a senior center.
By August, the number on that list had increased to 8,199, according to AARP Kentucky officials.
An estimated 375 older residents rallied at Kentucky's Capitol building in Frankfort on Thursday seeking an end to the long waiting list. They were asking Gov. Steve Beshear and state lawmakers for increased state funding in 2012 for senior meals and home- and community-based services for the aging and disabled. It was part of an "End the Wait. Fill the Plate" campaign for the 2012 General Assembly.
The budget for the Cabinet for Health and Family's Department of Aging and Independent Living is $64.7 million, said cabinet spokeswoman Gwenda Bond.
AARP spokesman Scott Wegenast said people at Thursday's rally were asking for a $25 million increase in funding in each of the next two years.
"Even one Kentucky senior waiting for meals is not acceptable," AARP state president James Kimbrough said. "AARP wants to end this wait, and we're going to push lawmakers to do it in 2012."
Organizers are calling for increasing funding for senior services that provide basic meals, in-home care, adult day care, personal-care attendants, transportation and many other support services such as Meals on Wheels.
Beshear did not immediately respond to questions Thursday afternoon.
The waiting list for all services from the Department of Aging and Independent Living is nearing 19,000, said cabinet spokeswoman Emily Moses. But Moses said that if an individual on the waiting list for meals is also on the list for adult day care, they are being counted twice — once for meals and once for day care.
In addition to AARP, representatives of the Kentucky Association for Gerontology and the Association of Area Agencies on Aging were at the rally, according to AARP officials.
Older citizens are asking for minimal services and support so that they can remain part of the community, AARP officials said.
Polly Troxell, who volunteers at the Henry County Senior Center and spoke at the rally, said in an interview that providing seniors with services that help keep them in their homes saves taxpayers money.
"You can keep them at home so much cheaper" than at a nursing home, Troxell said.
According to a recent AARP survey of Kentucky members, 79 percent said their top priority was staying in their homes for as long as possible.
"Our older citizens send a consistent message when asked — let us stay in our homes," said Kimbrough. "Losing their independence remains one of the greatest fears for seniors."