The Kuna City Council voted on July 16 to allocate $7,000 from the city’s contingency fund to go toward the Kuna Senior Center’s bussing service. The decision to help fund the senior center comes in the wake of federal funding cuts that halved the center’s bussing budget.
The Kuna Senior Center receives money for its shuttle service from a number of grants, one of which is made possible by the national Department of Transportation and is administered locally through Valley Regional Transit. In October 2018, the money that comes from that grant was docked from $24,000 to $12,000.
Because the grant is allotted on a two-year cycle, the city council approved giving $7,000 to the senior center for the remainder of this year and $10,000 next year to help fill the gap left by federal funding cuts, according to Mayor Joe Stear.
Andrea Billings, the senior center’s bus driver, said that before the grant was halved, she could work up to 40 hours per week doing her dream job. After the funding cuts, however, her hours dropped to 28 per week, thus lowering the number of rides she could give to seniors.
Currently, the bus runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Kuna, giving seniors a chance to get groceries or go shopping in town. On Tuesdays, the bus takes patrons to their doctor’s appointments, and on Thursdays, the bus takes them on field trips within 30 miles of Kuna.
Before the grant money was halved, however, the bus ran on a less restricted schedule. It was able to operate outside of the scheduled outings, and could pick seniors up when they called, rather than at set times. Field trips were further out of town, and often involved excursions like wine tours or trips to Pine, a town about 100 miles from Kuna.
“We’ve had to cut some services and scale back on what we have been doing with the bus, which means less riderships and not being able to serve the seniors and disabled that we used to,” said Nichole McClure, bookkeeper for the senior center. “We still service them, but it’s at a smaller scale, and we can’t look forward to expanding services or helping them out any more than what we have funding for.”
With the money from the city, the senior center should be able to restore the bus’s schedule to what it was before the cuts, McClure said.
Having access to a free bus several days of the week helps give seniors the freedom to do what they want and need to do, as there is no other public transport in Kuna, and many seniors are on a fixed or limited income, McClure said. Taking a taxi or calling an Uber takes a chunk of money that could otherwise be spent on food or bills.
Alternatively, going nowhere at all takes a toll on individuals’ physical and mental health.
“It gives seniors an outing. It gets the shut-ins out of their house — and even if they’re not the shut-ins, it just gets them active,” McClure said. “Research has always said that if you’re not using your brain you’re going to lose it; if you’re not using your body you’re going to lose it. To keep them active, it also keeps them alive and keeps them going.”
Linda Parks has been visiting the senior center for about six or seven years, and typically uses the bus four times a week. Parks is visually impaired, so having the bus to transport her from place to place has kept her mobile and social.
“They like going to those further-away places. Especially Pine,” Parks said. “The seniors really enjoyed it, because a lot of them, like me, the only time I get out is when I come here. When you come here, you get to just be with other seniors and we laugh on the bus and get to be ourselves. I really enjoy it.”
Mayor Stear, too, has a personal tie to the bus. Both of his parents used to take the bus to and from the senior center, and used it as a way to socialize.
“My mother and father went to the senior center, and that was fun for them because they get to socialize and be with people their own age that have gone through the same things in life and grew up in the same era,” Stear said. “Then when my father passed, that left a hole for my mother, of course, but the senior center was still there. She was still able to have that interaction, and it was really good for her; you could tell it lifted her spirits to go to the senior center all the time.”
Funding for the bus will now be composed of money from city council, donations, and grant money from the Idaho Commission on Aging and the remainder of the grant money from the Department of Transportation.
“It’s just amazing to see the joy they get from going somewhere together,” Billings said.