With a shift in United Way’s focus to alleviating poverty, grant requests from local senior centers are being denied.

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Earlier this year, five senior centers in Snohomish County each applied for grants from United Way of Snohomish County — just like they had for the past four decades.

But this time — to their surprise — their requests were denied.

This year, United Way of Snohomish County, along with United Ways across the state and nation, changed its focus to breaking the cycle of poverty. Senior centers, they say, don’t specifically address that problem.

“This is a response to what we’ve heard over the past two years,” said Jacqui Campbell, director of marketing and communications at the United Way of Snohomish County. “The overarching concern was poverty.”

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Several organizations serving seniors in King County also stopped receiving United Way funding this month. Sound Generations, an umbrella organization that works with King County senior centers and provides its own meal and transportation programs, has usually received about $800,000 per year.   This time, it will receive about $100,000.

“It’s been a long, long relationship with them,” said Karen Bystrom, vice president of marketing and development at Sound Generations. “ I hope the United Way changes their mind down the road.”

Without a new, $400,000 grant from Group Health the cuts would even be deeper, she said.

Bystrom added that it is especially difficult to raise funds for senior services — a sentiment shared by many senior-center directors in King and Snohomish counties.

“It’s always harder to raise funds for older adults as opposed to families and children,” she said. “Children are seen as investments for the future and older adults are seen as expenses or burdens.”

Many organizations that serve seniors will still get money from United Way. Of the 56 groups that will receive support from Senior Services of Snohomish County, for example, 32 offer some services to adults who are 65 or older.

But senior centers, while they offer health and education training along with community activities, don’t qualify because they don’t focus on alleviating poverty.

Ken Crowder, a member at the Snohomish Senior Center, said he understands the United Way’s decision.

“They’re not writing seniors off. They’re just not giving money to senior centers,” he said. “There’s really no attempt to fight poverty at senior centers.”

But for Farrell Fleming, executive director of the Edmonds Senior Center, the United Way’s decision sends a message. While his center will be able to cover its $30,000 budget hole, Fleming said the implications of the decision are dismaying.

“This was not a big ask; we weren’t asking for the moon or anything like that,” he said. “The United Way has been a leader in the community, and this sends a message that senior programs somehow don’t matter at all.”

Fleming added that although the senior centers aren’t focused on alleviating poverty, they do offer services like dental care important to seniors who otherwise might have to choose between that and groceries.

Jacob McGee, executive director of the East County Senior Center in Snohomish County, said he is confused by United Way’s decision because he sees a close link between poverty and senior issues. Seniors, many of whom subsist on Social Security benefits and face rising medical bills, make up a large share of the homeless population in the Seattle metropolitan area.

Bystrom echoed McGee. Nearly 70 percent of Sound Generation’s clients have low or very low incomes, she said.

This story, originally published July 10, has been corrected.  The $800,000 that Sound Generations used to receive from United Way is not half of the group’s annual budget. Also, a statement that was incorrectly attributed to Bystrom, regarding cuts to Saturday programming, has been deleted.