Meals on Wheels could take funding hit in Trump budget

The preliminary outline for President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget could slash some funding for a program that provides meals for older, impoverished Americans.

The budget blueprint suggests cutting funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by about $6.2 billion, a 13.2 percent decrease from its 2017 funding level.

Almost half of those savings will come by eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which provides money for a variety of community development and anti-poverty programs, including Meals on Wheels.

“The federal government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results,” the budget blueprint says.

In addition to painting the program as ineffective, the blueprint says the 2018 budget seeks to “devolve community and economic development activities to the state and local level.”

Though the blueprint doesn’t contain enough detail to know for certain how local Meals on Wheels programs will be affected, spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette said, “It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which they will not be significantly and negatively impacted if the President’s budget were enacted.”

Programs across the country are already serving 23 million fewer meals than they did in 2005, and waiting lists to join Meals on Wheels are growing, she said.

About 3 percent of the budget for Meals on Wheels’ national office comes from government grants (84 percent comes from individual contributions and grants from corporations and foundations), but the national association provides support and representation for a larger network of 5,000 independently operated local groups, Bertolette said.

The local agencies provide the actual meals and services, she said.

The Older Americans Act, as a function of the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is facing the specter of cuts itself, covers 35 percent of the costs for the visits, safety checks and meals that the local agencies dole out to 2.4 million senior citizens, Bertolette said.

Local agencies rely on Community Development Block Grant funds as well as money from the state-administered Community Services Block Grant to fill in the gaps.

“Each state allocates this funding differently, so it’s difficult to summarize the total impact on the nationwide network,” Bertolette said. “We know for certain that there are Meals on Wheels programs that would lose vital funding if this proposal went through.”

As an example of how it works, the city government of San Jose, California, applies for federal Community Development Block Grant funds for homeless outreach, resolving “slum and blight” and other community development needs.

In a statement issued before the release of Trump’s budget blueprint, the city said it expected to receive more than $2.5 million in funding for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. It planned to spend $100,650 of that on Meals on Wheels.

According to Meals on Wheels, roughly one in six senior citizens in the country struggles with hunger, and the organization served 219.4 million meals in 2015.

About 63% of those meals are delivered to homes of the elderly. Those who are more ambulatory are fed at local community and senior centers.

In addition to providing food, Meals on Wheels offers much-needed human contact for home-bound senior citizens. One of the ancillary benefits of the in-person delivery is that it has decreased the rate of falls in the home, saving the nation about $34 billion a year in that respect alone, Meals on Wheels says.

The national association will have a better idea how its network of programs will be affected when the full budget proposal is released in coming months.