Local senior advocates worry about proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A proposal in President Trump's budget blueprint could hurt the Meals on Wheels program thousands of seniors depend on every day.

Some funding for it is now at risk, and that has local agencies worried.

The President's budget proposes eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program, which would save the government $3 billion.

The budget blueprint says the program is "not well-targeted to poorest populations and has not demonstrated results."

But that program helps fund Meals on Wheels across the country, and many advocates are really concerned.

About three percent of the budget for Meals on Wheels' national office comes from government grants.

The national office supports 5,000 local groups across the country.

So that grant money is at risk under the proposed cuts.

But the Older Americans Act, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, could face cuts too. The act covers 35 percent of the costs for visits, safety checks and meals for local Meals on Wheels groups, according to the program.

Cleveland19 spoke to the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging to get their perspective on what's at stake.

"If you have food and you have a home-bound senior, and it's in a community where volunteer programs don't work for a variety of reasons, if you can't deliver that meal, even if you have that food, you're not going to be able to be effective," said Richard Browdie, President and CEO of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging based in Cleveland.

Browdie is concerned some of the proposed cuts could hurt their programs.

"Our home delivery meals program in the city, the Rose Centers for Aging well in the city," he said.

"The list goes on. We're still trying to figure out where the possibilities may be, but there could be a very significant impact for it."

Browdie also worries any federal cuts could affect how the city and county distributes its money to their programs.

He says these programs are essential to the well-being of the people they serve.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of people affected by these programs. So when you take them away, you increase the risk of dependence of all of those people," Browdie said.

He says their programs for the elderly cost a lot less than Medicaid and Medicare and serve two to three times the number of people.

Browdie says the proposed cuts may save money up front, but cost more later.

"One of the things we have to remember is that there is no one volunteering not to get older. The country is getting really good at producing older people," Browdie said.

Meals on Wheels released this statement Thursday:

"Today, the President sent his Budget Blueprint, also known as the "skinny budget," to Congress with a plan to release further details in the coming months. This blueprint focuses on discretionary spending levels for Fiscal Year 2018, and makes investments in defense programs, paid for through deep cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs, such as Meals on Wheels.

The portions of the President's Budget that have been released so far call for the elimination of a number of federal programs, including the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), on which some local Meals on Wheels programs rely to deliver nutritious meals, safety checks and friendly visits to our nation's most vulnerable seniors.

Details on our network's primary source of funding, the Older Americans Act, which has supported senior nutrition programs for 45 years, have not yet been released. This vital Act provides 35% of the total funding for Meals on Wheels (both congregate and home-delivered programs) nationally. With a stated 17.9% cut to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget, however, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which these critical services would not be significantly and negatively impacted if enacted into law.

The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details. 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" said Ellie Hollander, President and CEO Meals on Wheels America.

The need is growing rapidly, and federal funding has not kept pace. The network is already serving 23 million fewer meals now than in 2005, and waiting lists are mounting in every state. At a time when increased funding is needed, we fear that the millions of seniors who rely on us every day for a nutritious meal, safety check and visit from a volunteer will be left behind.

This successful public-private partnership, for which every federal dollar is matched with about three dollars from other sources, enables at-risk seniors to stay out of more expensive healthcare settings and remain more healthy, safe and independent in their own homes, where they want to be. After all, we can provide a senior with Meals on Wheels for an entire year for roughly the same cost of an average one-day stay in the hospital or ten days in a nursing home."

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