Trump Administration Picks Strange Fight With Meals On Wheels

Team Trump says the home meal-delivery program doesn't work. Studies suggest otherwise.

WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration wants to cut funding for a program that delivers food to senior citizens because it isn’t worth the money, according to President Donald Trump’s budget director.

“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good and great,” Mick Mulvaney said Thursday, referring to Meals on Wheels, a program that uses volunteers to deliver warm meals to more than 1 million older Americans in their homes every week.

Block grants that states use to fund Meals on Wheels and other programs “are just not showing any results,” Mulvaney said. “We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great.”

The Trump administration outlined a budget proposal Thursday that would increase military spending by $54 billion and offset the expense with cuts to a plethora of domestic programs.

The budget’s many targets included grants from federal agencies that some states use to help support Meals on Wheels programs, among other things. Mulvaney said the grants haven’t been worth the cost to the federal government, though states didn’t use the funds exclusively for home meal deliveries.

“We look at this as $140 billion spent over 40 years without the appreciable benefit to show for that type of expenditure,” Mulvaney said.

But several studies have suggested that home meal delivery programs don’t just give senior citizens food ― the meals are an opportunity for homebound seniors to socialize with other people and can actually help them remain in their homes.

A 2012 analysis by researchers at Brown University suggested that states spending more money on Meals on Wheels-type programs wind up spending less on nursing homes, which absorb over one-third of Medicaid costs. (In its Obamacare repeal effort, the Trump administration is trying to save billions by reducing Medicaid spending.)

“Home-delivered meal programs improve diet quality and increase nutrient intakes among participants,” according to a 2014 review of eight studies that looked at the programs. “These programs are also aligned with the federal cost-containment policy to rebalance long-term care away from nursing homes to home- and community-based services by helping older adults maintain independence and remain in their homes and communities as their health and functioning decline.”

In a statement Thursday, Meals on Wheels America pointed out that the block grants specifically targeted by the president’s budget aren’t the main source of federal funding for its local Meals on Wheels affiliates across the country. The association said funding from the Administration on Aging makes up 35 percent of Meals on Wheels funding; most of the rest comes from donations. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Administration on Aging, would see its budget cut 17.9 percent under what has been billed as the Trump “skinny” budget.

“The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details,” Meals on Wheels President Ellie Hollander said in a statement. “So, while we don’t know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged 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.”

Senior nutrition programs supported by the Administration on Aging have already seen their funding cut in recent years. The Meals on Wheels Association said its affiliates serve 23 million fewer meals per year than they did in 2005.

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