What is it about about?

One has to wonder at the mush with which we live. Today let’s take a peek at “Meals on Wheels changes set.” That’s the headline for an article by Advocate writer – not reporter mind you, just a writer — Chante Dionne Warren. It shows, too, that she’s not a reporter. Anyway, apparently the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging is making “major changes” but there’s a “small glitch.” The glitch is that instead of food being delivered as it was on Monday morning is now going to be delayed a few hours, or even “a day or two” for some folks probably dependent on those meals. So saith the director of the effort – one Johnny Dykes. It seems that from preparing the meals themselves the Council are going to be contracting out the preparation to a “private” food operation. One would have thought that any glitches would have been not only foreseen, but prevented. But what is the cause of the glitch? That’s the crux of the problem isn’t it? Seems to be, even if the statement about the glitch is buried halfway into the article. “Glitch in Food Program” should have been the title. Change is irrelevant, not news at all, if it does nothing much, but glitches? My, they are too be avoided, no? Change is OK, glitch, not so much.

The glitch is “tied to federal regulations that prohibit delivering the food until a later time in the day.” Ah, ha! Some federal bureaucrat in Washington DC has decreed that food shall not be delivered until such and such time. Why? Anything Mr. Dykes might know about the needs of his charges and his own operations, and local traffic conditions, and prior arrangements, and his own staffing needs and probably a host of other things that Mr. Dykes should well have under control given his position is unimportant I suppose, for the feds have spoken. Not to mention hungry expectations. All of this is simply overridden by a do-gooder in a faraway place who has no earthly clue as to any disruption that his rule might cause. And what difference does it make what time food is delivered? And if this is just meals can you imagine when the Federal Bureaucracy gets its hands on health care? What wonders of new glitch inducing rules will be foisted upon We the People?

Still, shouldn’t Ms. Warren, our writer, have found out what exact rule this might be? So that we could make a more informed decision as to the efficacy of such rule? And perhaps we could seek redress of our grievance from our fearless Senators or somebody? Did Mr. Dykes know the jot and tittle of the rule? You know – Rule 13(a) of Subsection 6(1-B) of Law 8.5 in Title 20 of the Federal Code of Food Regulations, as amended and in compliance with all other such provisions not withstanding the filing of form OMB-1094.5(2009) which shall be filed in triplicate with the relevant agency? Or something, anything, more specific than “federal regulations”? Really, such reporting is to be commended that we even know it is a federal matter whether Ms. Thibodaux or Mr. Boudreax up there in North Baton Rouge on Wyoming Street at Acadian Thruway is getting her or his rice and beans according to the well intentioned busybodying of a federal bureaucrat who might even have heard of Baton Rouge, but knows the exact correct time for said delivery of rice and beans. Still, it is a glitch that must be dealt with I suppose. Such glitches are common in Federalistan. That’s why we are forever having to “Cut red tape,” and “call the right person in the agency.” The more agencies of course, the more glitches that can be produced. And in Federalistan glitches seem to be good currency, for in solving what they create they can claim onmipotence and justify salary and budget and demand more of both for having done such a great job in deglitching the glitches created by the red tape that would be cut but if only you asked correctly.

Mr. Dykes then goes on to say that “about 500” will be affected, and the said program has a budget of “about $320,000 a year,” and which serves about “800” people,” of whom “about 450” are home delievered at the cost of “about $1,350 a year per person, and the changes will affect “about 20” staff people, and in “about two or three months” we’ll know what this all costs – since most informatively, Mr. Dykes says “figures are not available on the cost per person under the new contract.” Well, about which I say – mush.

Does Ms. Warren mean to say that Mr. Dykes is somewhat clueless as to how many people he serves, how much it costs per year, how he will manage his staff, and how much the contract he just engaged in costs? That’s what all the abouts mean. Or, conversely, Mr. Dykes was very explicit, as one would hope someone literally bringing home the bacon would be, and Ms. Warren was just too lazy to tell us? Or did the Advocate editors decide that while we can keep track of the exact rule of the NFL which makes sure that some running back has exactly this amount of yards run but not one inch more as is dutifully noted in the sports pages box-scores? Such exactitude for games, such mush for money. No wonder the state has a problem with its budget. Which is the headline on the front page – 248 Million Bucks to be trimmed? With all the abouts, there’s no if, and, or buts about it – no one seems to have a clue as to why nothing is known with more precision. And amazingly, no one seems to care – Not Mr. Dykes, not Ms. Warren and neither her employer – our fearless Advocate. I bet the hungry old lady does though.

Even more oddly, Mr. Dykes says the general fund deficit of his organization is “$75,000.” A specific number that almost certainly is not true, but only “about” — and yet here there is no “about” to warn us that the exact number is not known. Here the number is given with precision. And yet, it’s a mush number, for no organization ever has such an exact figure. It might be $75,643.23 or it might be $74,721.84. Who knows? You can’t with all those abouts, about which there can be no doubts. Though it is a fairly common practice to be excrutiatingly exact with sports numbers, and oh, I don’t know, somewhere about this or that with the public money. And the exact rule to be cited for whether a pass is a touchdown or not is stated with all the exactitude that math and law can muster – but oh, we don’t know, some guy somewhere in some agency made a rule about something and well, it’s right there on some form and in some policy book – don’t worry about the details. Mush I tell you, mush.

How hard could it have been to obtain the details? And report them? How difficult could it have been to maybe well, look at the ledger and find out what the costs might be? And did Mr. Dykes really sign a contract about which he knows not the costs? Oh, don’t worry, we’ll find out later. If we have a deficit, maybe there’s a few ducats hanging around the already strained state budget. With all the abouts there is surely some money left lying about unaccounted for, no? Sure seems that way sometimes.

But still, we can’t know, even by our own pen-in-hand math, how much each meal might cost. And that’s because the new contract amount is not given. We have no clue as to how much money Mr. Dykes might be saving over his current about $320,000. Still we can figure some things out.

For instance – the current program – the one being changed – costs $320,000 a year. And there are, roughly 800 recipients of sustenance. Let’s say exactly 800. And what then is the cost per person of this $320,000 a year program: 320,000 / 800 = 400. That’s right, it’s $400 per person that is being spent. But Dykes says it’s “about” $1,350. So that leads me to wonder – what’s the other $950 for? Where does that go? Shouldn’t this little math glitch have been addressed by our Advocate, guardian of the public purse as they claim? The article says the current cost per meal is $5.25. OK, so how are we to know – indeed how is Mr. Dykes himself to know – if the new contract is going to cost less than $5.25 per meal? And isn’t that the goal? To get the same meals for less money? Should this be part of the reportage that is flung about the pages we read each day? I sure think so, but I’m cranky and curmudgeonly, and given to nitpicking over pennies. Well, I don’t like budget deficits that’s for sure.

And how does such an organization run a $75,000 deficit? Are they borrowing the cash? Are there some heartless legislators deny the elderly homebound some rice and beans to this amount of money – or is the money merely appropriated as necessary – which means there’s really not a deficit at all, there’s just a “we’ll pay when we figure it out, don’t worry,” budget line on which to draw. That’s not a deficit, that’s a credit line. Still, such a sum can buy a lot of rice and beans indeed. Does Dykes go every year to some Santa Angel and get the cash to pay whatever it is he is paying? It is not written by Warren.

Even more intriguing – but unanswered – is if the new contract about which we know so little going to alleviate this deficit? Now that would have been heartwarming news! That would have shown me that Mr. Dykes has his hands on the problem and is doing what he can to be a more efficient provider of meals to the elderly, which is a very worthy thing to do. Perhaps he might even be able to squeeze in a bit of extra banana pudding, or add a few more to the roles, or throw a special party of thanks for his staff, or sock that money away to build up a rainy day fund, or even an endowment so that his program could pay for itself indefinitely without more tax money.

Still, Mr. Dykes does have a great plan – go to Livingston Parish, the folks next door, to a mush pit named Port Vincent and start a bingo game to raise funds. Nothing like the surety of gambling to remedy any problem. I think there are large billboards all over the place that say something along the lines that if you are using gambling to fund your food you should call the 1-800-Help Line to stop such foolishness. Not our Dykes though – he’s plunging in – well, maybe not – for it is written that “COA Members have applied” to bingo for dollars. Which members? Do the members act separately from Mr. Dykes the director? Council member Evert Bennett is quoted as being the go-to guy on the gaming.

Then to wrap up the mush around which about I learn nothing more than somebody is doing something for somebody under somebody’s rules and somebody’s about figures that “board members” say “holding bingo games three to four days a week could generate from $50,000 to $60,000.” Yes, well, perhaps if you knew how many days you were playing you could take a better guess. And I guess you could then make a better judgement as to whether it was $10,000 more or less than you expected. And then perhaps you could apply that to the roughly $75,000 which still leaves roughly $25,000 to $15,000 still missing from the deficits. And pretty soon, after a little thought and actual numbers about actual things one could actually come up with about what is being done about this rather grave issue of the poor homebound elderly who are going to wait a day or two for their meals to arrive this week.

No word either, on whether this is a one time deal or if it is going to be an on-going glitch. And no word either from the nameless faceless bureaucrat in unknown agency up yonder way is plotting to create another glitch causing rule because he has the power, is clueless as to reality, is meanspirited, or is just plain dumb. That would clarify some of this mush, that’s for sure. Bon Apetite as you sink your mind into it.

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