In the aftermath of the bombshell of a first budget submitted by President Trump, few individual programs have received more attention than the federally-funded home-delivered meal programs for older adults, also known as “Meals on Wheels.” It actually received two spotlights: one media-induced, the other from the chief defender of the Trump budget, the Director of the Office of Management and the Budget (OMB).
The media reported, without full accuracy, that the budget intended to eliminate ALL federal funding for home delivered meals. That fortunately is not the case. Two block grant programs, the Community Development Block Grant and the Community Services Block Grant, were targeted for elimination in the budget. These programs do provide support for home-delivered meals and related services in some parts of the country. However, the main funding source for home-delivered meals, the Older Americans Act, as well as the Social Services Block Grant, were not removed in the budget.
The second spotlight came when the OMB Director, while in a press conference, offered an indefensible defense of why home-delivered meal programs in these particular federal programs were being targeted. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney charged that these programs did not show results.
“The Director of the Office of Management and the Budget has provided the spark that has lit the fire under national and grassroots advocates.”
This astounding allegation may be the most astounding “fake news” we have heard to date from this administration. Federally-funded home-delivered meal programs show concrete, measurable results every day they operate. Anyone, even the OMB Director, will see this as soon as Monday, when thousands of home-delivered meal programs will move into action, tangibly touching the lives of millions of homebound older Americans.
Results: These older Americans will be provided with a meal which for many will be their main source of nutrition for the day.
Results: These older Americans will receive this meal in their home vs. in a hospital or nursing home. In fact, it has been estimated that an older adult can be fed for a year by Meals on Wheels for approximately the same cost as spending a day in a hospital or a week in a nursing home. Meal delivery keeps older adults safely at home, at dramatically less cost to the federal government.
Results: In many communities, federally-funded home-delivered meals are delivered by a dedicated cadre of volunteers of all ages, also showing an efficient use of the federal dollar.
Results: When a meal is provided to an older adult, they also have the occasion to interact daily with someone who cares about them helping to reduce the real concern about isolation among older adults. This provides added value.
So, despite being one of the best investments of federal dollars over the decades, federally-funded home-delivered meals have been disparaged. It is clear the program accomplishes to promote the independence of older adults. Despite the fact that the home-delivered meals program is an enduring model of a public-private partnership, it now has to be defended against the unprepared, misinformed and misguided comments of our top budget official. What is wrong with this picture?
It is interesting to recall that the last time federally-funded home-delivered meals came under the cutting ax was in 2013 during sequestration when programs suffered a five percent or more across the board cut. One year later, Congress on a bipartisan basis (when Director Mulvaney was Congressman Mulvaney from South Carolina) voted to increase funding for the Older Americans Act nutrition programs by $47 million. This included both home-delivered and congregate meals.
“Director Mulvaney has provided the incentive that has members of Congress looking more closely at home-delivered meals in their districts and states.”
Also worth noting is that in 2016, Congress on a bipartisan basis voted to give the main program funding home-delivered meals a three year renewal.
Sometimes budget axes hit the wrong targets. This is one of those times and targets. Any elimination of federal funding for home-delivered meals for older adults is a wrong and a cruel target.
We may end up owing Director Mulvaney a thank you in the end. Thanks to his comments, we have seen a national groundswell of interest and support for federally-funded home-delivered meals. I especially applaud the local media coverage that has been quickly generated when they are provided the information on the positive community impact of home-delivered meals. This issue has created a firestorm on social media. Late night network talk show hosts have risen in defense of home-delivered meals.
So yes, we may actually owe the Director our thanks. He has provided the spark that has lit the fire under national and grassroots advocates. He has provided the incentive that has Members of Congress looking more closely at home-delivered meals in their districts and states. Learning more, they too become vocal supporters.
So, Director Mulvaney, thank you. Your mean-spirited words may result in federally-funded home-delivered meals for older adults getting exactly what they need: an increase in funding.