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Meals on Wheels Sees 500 Percent Donation Increase Since Trump Announced Budget Cuts

"While Meals on Wheels America and local Meals on Wheels programs are seeing an uptick in giving, it does not replace federal funding."

by Alex Swerdloff
Mar 21 2017, 7:00pm

As you've undoubtedly heard, President Trump's proposed budget was released last Thursday, and while it includes an increase in defense spending of $54 billion, many programs and people will be feeling the pain of its deep cuts, should it be approved by Congress. One such program may be Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to seniors and people with disabilities—which means one of the people feeling the pain could be your grandmother.

Meals on Wheels is a nationwide network of programs that delivers meals to 2.4 million homebound people—many of whom are elderly. On the same day that the proposed budget came out, Meals on Wheels America—the oldest and largest organization supporting the network—released a statement saying that its affiliates are afraid they will be negatively impacted by cuts in the proposed budget. In response to that news, there was a public outcry: Contributions to Meals on Wheels America skyrocketed over the weekend, and volunteer sign-ups went up by 500 percent.

Jenny Bertolette, Vice President of Communications at Meals on Wheels America, told MUNCHIES, "On a given day, Meals on Wheels America typically receives $1,000 in unsolicited online donations. Since Thursday morning, we've received more than $160,000 in online donations. These gifts will help fund our national advocacy efforts and awareness campaigns (among other things) that support the network of 5,000 senior nutrition programs across the country."

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To be clear, the Trump budget blueprint, aka the "skinny budget," is short on details—as such proposals are wont to be—but the information released so far does call for the elimination of the Community Services Block Grant and the Community Development Block Grant, which together supply approximately 3 percent of Meals on Wheels' annual funding.

That may not seem like a lot, but some of the organization's branches rely heavily on these block grants. In Detroit, for example, 30 percent of the local Meals on Wheels budget draws from them.

And, supporters of Meals on Wheels are fearful that the organization is due to lose more than just the block grants, once further details of the Trump budget are worked out. The primary source of federal funding for Meals on Wheels—35 percent—comes from the Older Americans Act. Bertolette explained, "While the current budget proposal does not specify exactly how much funding would be lost, cuts of any kind to these highly successful programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses."

In a statement, Meals on Wheels America further elucidated its fear that the Older Americans Act will take a hit under the final budget: "With a stated 17.9 percent cut to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which these critical services would not be significantly and negatively impacted if enacted into law."

While Meals on Wheels America says it appreciates the donations it has received following Trump's budget release, Bertolette told us she wants to make one thing clear: "I will say that while Meals on Wheels America and local Meals on Wheels programs are seeing an uptick in giving, it does not replace federal funding. Meals on Wheels continues to deliver results because it has been a successful public-private partnership for 45 years. We will always need support from both sides, especially as the demand for services continues to rise along with the senior population."

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In an effort to explain the cuts in the Trump budget proposal, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the budget was intended to eliminate "wasteful programs, duplicative programs, [and] programs that simply don't work." In a direct dig at Meals on Wheels, Mulvaney went so far as to say that cutting Meals on Wheels' budget could be construed as a "compassionate" act—to taxpayers. He said that the government shouldn't make taxpayers fund programs "unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function."

Meals on Wheels is confident that it can show exactly that. The organization says it can provide meals to a senior for an entire year for roughly the same cost as a one-day stay in the hospital.

Still, some conservative-leaning news outlets are calling the news reports of a budgetary threat to Meals on Wheels "false." The National Review, for example, points out that no cuts to the Older Americans Act—again, Meals on Wheels' primary source of federal funding—have been announced. But Bertolette says the danger is clearly imminent: "The extent of the damage to the organization that feeds America's homebound and elderly will be revealed in the weeks to come."

As the intricacies of the federal budget are hammered out in the weeks and months to come, perhaps Congress should take note that the public is not pleased to hear that the budget of Meals on Wheels may be in danger.

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