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Meals on Wheels: Understanding the President’s Funding Threat to this Valuable Social Program

by admin on 28th-April-2017

S. E. Williams

The number of seniors in California is expected to double by 2020. By the year 2030, nearly one in five Californians will be older than 65. California leads the nation in the number of older adults who live in poverty: nearly 20 percent. Additionally, across America, nearly 8,000 baby boomers turn sixty years old every day.

In the midst of this reality, President Trump released his projected 2017-18 budget proposal: ‘America First—A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.’ When it was introduced, states, municipalities, advocate groups, seniors, and the many who love and care for them expressed concern over the potential loss of funding, particularly to Meals on Wheels, which could impede the nation’s ability to effectively care for seniors. 

Meals on Wheels is the nation’s oldest and largest program focused on senior hunger and isolation. It supports more than 5,000 community-based senior nutrition programs nationally. 

Contrary to popular belief, Meals on Wheels is not a federal program and is therefore not listed as a separate item in the president’s budget proposal. It does, however, receive federal funding through key federal department budgets that are now targeted for deep cuts under the proposed budget. 

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal would reduce discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by 13.2 percent, or $6.2 billion. Community Development Block Grants funded through HUD provide support for senior centers in cities across the country, as well as street improvements, parks, and homeless programs. 

This is not the only proposed cut that may weigh on the nation’s seniors. The president also proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling 17.9 percent, or $15.1 billion. The issue here is that the Older Americans Act is managed under HHS, and funding from this agency covers approximately 35 percent of costs for visits, safety checks, and meals that local agencies provide to nearly 2.4 million seniors across the country. 

Some programs, like Riverside Meals on Wheels, Inc., for example, are not subsidized by a state- or federally-funded program, though it does receive some support from the city. This week, in an interview with The Voice, Executive Director Janice Bielman talked about her agency, its funding, and the success of their program. The non-profit agency has served seniors in Riverside County for forty-five years.

According to Bielman, Riverside Meals on Wheels primarily depends on donations. “Our founders did not believe that we should be beholden to the government,” she explained. “They also did not want the age and income restrictions [applied to most federal programs]. This way, we have the freedom to help everyone.” Many seniors either make too much money to qualify for government assistance but not enough to pay for in home help, or are homebound without a support network to assist them. 

“These are the people who took care of us,” Bielman stressed as she reflected on the seniors her agency serves. “We need to take care of them. We deliver more than a meal. We are usually the only contact the clients see every day.” 

“Just recently we had a man in his late 90s,” she shared. “He was out of sorts and it was getting bad. We dealt with the apartment complex manager and then reached out to the Riverside County Office on Aging for help. The agency came in, offered their assistance and he has never looked better.” According to Bielman, the man did not have family in the area. 

The Riverside Meals on Wheels program operates with minimal overhead, and community support is always welcome. Currently, the agency operates with some essentials like its worn out insulated bags. “It takes three bags per route and they need to be replaced,” Bielman shared. “We could use about 100 bags.” 

Bielman shared that her agency receives strong support from the entire city council and the mayor. Mayor Rusty Bailey is hosting a “Take a Stand for Seniors” event on Thursday, April 27 from 5:30 to 6:30 at the Grier Pavillion, 3900 Main Street in Riverside on the second floor. Everyone is welcome. The agency is also seeking a financial partner. “It would be a good thing to do for the community and for themselves,” Bielman encouraged.

The Riverside Meals on Wheels program is making an impact. It has delivered more than 40,00 meals across six cities in Riverside County. Volunteers have dedicated more than 12,000 hours to delivery. And, the agency has fed the pets of 2,160 Meals on Wheels seniors. 

To learn more about the Riverside Meals on Wheels program, become a financial partner, make a donation, or volunteer, visit http://riversidemealsonwheels.org/ or call (951) 683-7151. To apply for Meals on Wheels in San Bernardino County visit http://mealsonwheelsie.org/apply, send an email to Service@MealsonWheelsIE.org, or call 909-882-8466, extension 240. 

Unlike the Riverside Meals on Wheels program, many local agencies rely on HUD’s Community Development Block Grant funds and money from the state-administered HHS’ Administration for Community Living, Community Services Block Grant to help fill gaps in funding. 

Under the president’s budget proposal, California stands to lose more federal dollars than any other state in the nation. Experts believe such cuts could critically impact the state’s most sensitive populations, including families with children, the disabled, veterans, the homeless and, of course, the elderly. As a point of reference, in 2016 California received almost $60 million in Community Service Block Grant funding and just shy of $357 million in Community Development Block Grant funding. 

Reports indicate only about three percent of the budget for Meals on Wheels’ national office is provided by government grants. 84 percent of its budget is the result of individual contributions and corporate grants, in addition to funding provided by foundations. The national association supports a network of approximately 5,000 local and independently operated groups who actually provide the meals. 

According to the National Meals on Wheels organization, nearly one in six elderly persons struggles with hunger and more than 219 million meals were served in 2015. Seniors who are ambulatory take their meals at local community or senior centers. However, 63 percent of the meals are delivered to seniors in their homes. A study by Brown University revealed that for every dollar spent on food, the nation could save five dollars in health care costs. 

By 2030, nearly one in every five Californians will be older than 65. Currently, 12.8 percent of the population of Riverside County is over 65; in San Bernardino County, approximately 10 percent of the population are seniors. 

The Community Development Block Grant program is one of the longest continuously run programs at HUD; a loss of funding through Trump’s proposed budget cuts is certain to reverberate across the nation. Projected cuts to HHS are currently devoid of detail regarding any probable impacts on the Administration for Community Living, which funds nutrition programs for the elderly; advocates for seniors are watching closely for more information. 

In the cover memo that accompanied the president’s budget proposal, Trump stated, “One of the most important ways the Federal Government sets priorities is through the Budget of the United States.” He continued, “Our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens—a government that puts the needs of its own people first.” Critics continue to question how this budget proposal will accomplish these goals. 

In the final paragraph of the memo, President Trump noted, “These cuts are sensible and rational.” Many have questioned this statement. Only time will tell. To view the president’s budget in detail, visit www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/2018_blueprint.pdf.

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