Meals on Wheels, a program that feeds about two and a half million older citizens nationwide, faces a funding cut in President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018.
Almost 130,000 meals are delivered to 500 residents in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties each year, through the Council on Aging of West Florida, an independent, 501(c) (3) not-for-profit, where John Clark is President and CEO.
“The purpose of the program is, basically, to help persons 60 years of age and over, who have some type of disability or for some reason can’t properly prepare their own meals,” said Clark. “And help them to further stay independent in their own homes.”
Clark says there’s more to Meals on Wheels than the “Meals.”
“A lot of our clients live alone; they don’t have any contact with anybody literally all day, except for watching TV,” Clark said. “That volunteer or that staff person that goes to deliver that meal and talk to them gets to know who they are. They form a relationship.”
Among the major domestic program cuts in the president’s spending plan is the elimination of federal grants that go to Meals on Wheels.
“We can’t spend money on programs, just because they sound good; Meals on Wheels sounds great,” says Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Budget Management. “[But] to take the money and give it to the states and say, ‘Look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work. I can’t defend that anymore.”
“The Meals on Wheels program is not one that I’m certain is most optimally run in Washington,” says Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), who represents northwest Florida’s House District-1.
Gaetz reminds everyone that a President’s budget plan is just a proposal, and a lot can happen in Congress before the spending plan reaches final approval.
“The more we can get resources downstream out of Washington and back to the people who make a difference, the better,” Gaetz said. “I wouldn’t view any one particular line item or budget category in the President’s budget as dispositive. Unquestionably, there will be changes as we continue to get input from constituents.”
Unlike other programs that receive government funding, Meals on Wheels relies on volunteers to make every dollar count. The Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program has an annual budget of $5 million. Three million comes from state and federal sources, and COA’s John Clark says local donations match that amount.
The Council is also contacting members of the local legislative delegation.
“We’ve had meetings with [Representatives] Clay Ingram, Frank White, Jayer Williamson, and [Senator] Doug Broxson,” said Josh Newby, Marketing Communications Director for Council on Aging of West Florida. “And they all sit on committees, whether it’s Health and Human Services or Senior Affairs. And they all understand that it makes more sense if these individuals can stay at home, living with independence and dignity.”
Add to that, says Newby, the emotional advantage of the client and their family. And it’s also cheaper. Figures from COA show it costs about eight times more to house them in a full-time nursing facility, compared to keeping them at home.
Newby – who works to increase funding for all Council programs -- is hoping that Trump’s budget does for Meals on Wheels what his travel ban did for the ACLU. That is, lead to a spike in donations.
“We’ve already seen some contributions come through that are specific to Meals on Wheels,” Newby said. “We’ve had several people in the community reach out and say, ‘How can I volunteer?’ So it is having that maybe unintended, but still positive effect.”