Unless you’re directly affected, it would be easy to conclude that predictions about the impact of the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” were exaggerated.

Here in Maine, the highest-profile sequestration targets have been Acadia National Park, whose opening has been delayed for a month, and civilian defense workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, who will have to take 14 furlough days before Sept. 30.

Sequestration, however, also affects a less visible yet growing segment of Maine’s population: people age 60 and older.

In a state with the third-highest percentage of senior citizens in the nation, sequestration cutbacks are having an immediate impact on a program that delivers free and low-cost meals to homebound people older than 60.

If services such as Meals on Wheels continue to go without full federal funding, we’ll all feel the impact in higher taxes, higher health care costs and a lower quality of life for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

In the wake of the sequestration cuts, Spectrum Generations, the central and midcoast Maine agency on aging, has started a waiting list for Meals on Wheels, and the news has people concerned.

Southern Maine Agency on Aging doesn’t have a waiting list, says director Larry Gross, but it already had cut its Meals on Wheels deliveries from five days a week to four several years ago.

And, anticipating possible additional cuts, the agency started a campaign last fall to raise $250,000 for Meals on Wheels.

Post-sequestration, the agency reduced the size of its daily meal program for the most fragile clients, and cut dessert for all clients to a single cookie.

Obviously, Meals on Wheels fills a need by ensuring that homebound seniors have at least five hot, nutritious meals a week.

Clients also depend on Meals on Wheels for regular human contact. Without this, they become isolated and more prone to depression, which can accelerate memory loss, increase the risk of suicide and cardiac disease and make it harder to recover from illness.

By helping ensure that seniors maintain their mental and physical health, Meals on Wheels saves taxpayers money in the long run. Spending money to keep someone healthy at home can forestall having to spend money on more-expensive nursing home or assisted-living care.

Others may not even know about their plight; these issues play out behind closed doors.

If Maine’s senior citizens don’t receive the support services they need, however, their plight soon will become much more obvious — and tragic, because it didn’t have to be that way.

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