Powerball ‘Benefiting older Pennsylvanians’ but how much?

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LOWER SWATARA TWP., Pa. -- The biggest jackpot in United States lottery history also brought in a record haul for Pennsylvania's senior citizens.

Totaling out at nearly $1.6 billion with a $983 million cash value, the Powerball drawing which was won Wednesday by winners in California, Tennessee, and Florida brought in more than $70 million in revenue to the Pennsylvania Lottery, executive director Drew Svitko said. Nearly all that money, as the lottery's tag line states, will go towards benefiting older Pennsylvanians.

"The last couple weeks have been exciting," Svitko says. "We're a major source of funding for the Department of Aging."

Prescription drug programs like PACE and PACENet, free bus rides to doctors offices or markets, and Meals on Wheels are just a few of the programs impacted by lottery funds, Svitko said.

However, what isn't yet known is when senior centers will begin to see the impacts of this $70 million Powerball windfall. Svitko admitted the Pennsylvania Lottery does not disseminate their funds directly to county aging agencies. Instead, the money flows from the lottery to the state treasury, which then passes out the money to Pennsylvania's 67 counties, which, through their area agencies on aging, fund older Pennsylvanians in their region.

"We make the pie, and other people serve it," said Pennsylvania Lottery spokesperson Gary Miller.

At the Heinz-Menaker Senior Center in Uptown Harrisburg, a couple dozen seniors are sitting down to lunch on a Friday. The food pantry program they're taking advantage of is a direct result of lottery funding, according to center director Les Ford.

He says the lottery helps fund their Meals on Wheels program as well. Yet, the money they receive from the Dauphin County Area Agency only helps to cover operation costs, such as heating, water, and electricity. Ford says everyone who works there or volunteers pitches in extra to keep up with paying the rent so their seniors can have an exercise program.

Furthermore, Heinz-Menaker doesn't receive monthly checks from the Dauphin County AAA. Instead, their funding comes from reimbursement checks.

"We don’t have a fund just sitting there to absorb overages or unexpected expenses," Ford says. "We have to be disciplined month-to-month to operate into the next month as we wait for the county check from the prior month."

When Ford received the news of Pennsylvania's $70 million gain from the Powerball sales, his initial reaction was skepticism.

"I immediately begin to ask myself what percentage of that will reach senior centers and individual seniors in the state of Pennsylvania?" he wondered. "Given that the game has changed, given additional funds, we’d like some of the pressure taken off of us at the operational level to accommodate our financial need."

Robert Burns, Director of the Dauphin County Area Agency on Aging, was unavailable for comment Friday.