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Northeast Ohio seniors get new assistance options with help from Washington

WRAAA Senior Investment
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
Local and federal officials, including Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne, WRAAA Chief of Performance and Strategy Manaegment June Taylor, Cuyahoga County Council President Pernel Jones, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, U.S. Representative Shontel Brown, and WRAAA CEO E. Douglas Beach met Tuesday, January 17, 2023 to announce the $3.4 million in funding for WRAAA senior support programs.

Northeast Ohio seniors are going to get improved access to food and toiletries, home repairs and transportation through four new programs that are part of an initiative led by the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA.)

The initiative is funded by a $3.4 million federal investment, which June Taylor, the agency's chief of performance and strategy said Tuesday is "one of the largest of the size and scale in the United States."

The funds will be used to implement four programs.

The Great Grocery Giveaway, expected to launch spring 2023, will provide seniors with nonperishable groceries and personal hygiene items.

"The Great Grocery Giveaway will be another initiative that will kick off during the winter [that] will probably be towards the end of March," Taylor said. "We hope to complement all sorts of food giveaway and food bank initiatives that are going throughout the region."

The agency purchased four new, ADA accessible vans for its WRAAA Going Places program. The service will provide seniors with transportation to doctor and dentist appointments, and is expected to launch in the fall of 2023.

The agency's WRAAA Works and WRAAA Nails It! programs are focused on home improvement by providing ADA accessible features ranging from grab rails to ADA compliant toilets and showers.

"I can't tell you how many times when we were on county council, people came to us to tell us the challenges of being able to stay in their homes, being able to keep their parents in their homes where they felt very comfortable," U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Cleveland) said. "I cannot compliment or applaud Ms. Taylor more for initiating this endeavor to make that a reality for so many people."

Shontel Brown
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
U.S. Representative Shontel Brown discusses the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging's investment of $3.4 million in programming for senior Northeast Ohio residents on Tuesday, January 17, 2023.

The initiative was born early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when the agency heard similar accounts from seniors who lacked access to food, housing and transportation.

"As we made deliveries to people's homes and as we spent time with many people throughout this region, whether it was delivering masks or it was delivering a hot meal," Taylor said, "we found out that there were people struggling in their own environment."

The agency worked with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cuyahoga County Council President Pernel Jones and Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell to create an initiative that presented residents with solutions, Taylor said, and all members were key to earning the grant funding and bringing the programs to fruition.

Sen. Brown said the funding came from the congressionally directed spending process that was reimplemented in the Senate in 2021.

"My job is to listen to you and translate that into legislative language, if it makes sense, and work to get those some of that... congressionally directed spending," he said. "I'll never apologize to anybody for delivering those dollars back to Ohio."

The four WRAAA programs will serve seniors in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.