Feeding elderly, mostly homebound Americans wouldn’t appear to be a very controversial program.
But on Thursday, Meals on Wheels found itself caught in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget.
The president's plan would boost military and homeland security while taking a hatchet to domestic spending. Areas that would suffer deep cuts include the environment, the arts, science and anti-poverty programs.
Case in point: Meals on Wheels, the nationwide charity that delivers more than 200 million meals a year to 2.4 million elderly and infirm Americans.
It could be sharply curtailed if Trump’s proposed elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grants fund takes effect. The funding comes out of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Meals on Wheels of America president and CEO Ellie Hollander said while the organization could not know the exact impact the cuts would have, any decrease “would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America.” Hollander said the work the organization does saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses.
The organization claims its services decrease the rate of falls, which would cost the nation $34 billion a year.
In an news conference on Thursday, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the Community Development Block Grant Program, was "just not showing results" and its programs "don't work."
Multiple types of Meals on Wheels programs exist around the country, not all of which rely exclusively on federal funding.
Citymeals on Wheels in New York City delivers more than 2 million meals a year to more than 18,000 of New York’s homebound and elderly, funded by donations and a public/private partnership with the city Department for the Aging.
Meals on Wheels of America said every federal dollar it receives is matched by about $3 from other sources. But cuts in funding overall have reduced the number of meals the organization provides by 23 million since 2005.
In Philadelphia, numerous Meals on Wheels programs provides people with food around the region. The Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging (PCA) alone feeds about 6,000 people.
PCA gets 85 percent of its funding from Pennsylvania, and 15 percent from federal funding, or roughly 50 cents per meal, said president and CEO Holly Lange. Even if the proposed cuts go through, Lange said she will fight to maintain the program.
“I would never cut meals,” Lange said. “My board cannot allow an older person to go hungry. I would find something else to cut.”
“Philadelphia has a big poverty problem and a big food insecurity program,” she continued. “We are the largest provider of meals in the city except the school district, so any cuts to that program would be devastating.”