TOPEKA — The Kansas Meals on Wheels program appealed to a House committee Wednesday for a $200,000 increase in state aid to provide an additional quarter of a million meals annually to seniors.

The level of state financing to the program providing 3 million meals has remained unchanged for nearly a decade. A 5 percent increase would be the equivalent of 260,000 meals, said Heidi Pickerell, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels of Shawnee and Jefferson counties.

"More funding is needed to continue serving meals to many vulnerable seniors," Pickerell said. "Money spent now on nutrition pays dividends in the future."

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican who chairs the House Social Services Budget Committee, said the panel had already worked through the portion of the state budget affiliated with Meals on Wheels. She said the committee would consider the request.

Nationally, the number of seniors struggling with hunger has doubled during the past 20 years. The number of meals provided by Meals on Wheels has declined across the nation by 20 million since 2005, Pickerell said.

"Meal delivery is one of the most cost-effective safety net programs to be found," she said. "Nutrition programs assist in avoidance of hospitalizations or re-hospitalizations, prevention of premature nursing facility placements, as well as management of chronic illnesses."

In Kansas, the program receives $3.9 million from the state and $7.3 million from the federal government. Local agencies contribute $6.8 million to Meals on Wheels. The agencies operating the meal delivery service are prohibited from charging consumers the cost of the meal but can request donations, Pickerell said.