If Donald Trump really wants to take a bite out of the federal government (so he can feed more dough to big defense contractors), you would have thought he could have found a better place to make his stand than with the popular Meals on Wheels program.
Yet there was Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, telling reporters this week that the program that delivers nutritious meals to needy seniors in their homes is another symptom of a wasteful federal government.
“Meals on Wheels sounds great,” Mulvaney said during a White House briefing before going on to say it is among many federally-funded grant programs that are “just not showing any results.”
“We’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people,” Mulvaney said.
Nobody seems quite sure to which results Mulvaney was referring or which promises he believes were not kept.
But there are a lot of people out there who would be happy to educate Mulvaney and the president that Meals on Wheels doesn’t just sound great but IS great, because it feeds millions of healthy meals to elderly people to help them stay in their homes.
Among them are Don and Linda Dixon, who receive two meals a day delivered to their Evanston apartment from Meals at Home, one of thousands of independent non-profit organizations across the country that operate under the Meals on Wheels umbrella.
“If it wasn’t for the meals, Don would probably be in the hospital more than he’s here,” Linda Dixon, 68, said of her 83-year-old husband, who nodded his agreement from the easy chair where he was nursing two badly swollen legs.
Both Dixons are hobbled by health problems that make it difficult for them to cook for themselves. So each day around noon, they receive four meals — two for each — one hot, one cold.
“It helps us a lot,” Linda said.
The Dixons are lucky to have each other. The typical Meals at Home client is an elderly woman living alone, said executive director, Debi Genthe.
I was there Friday when volunteer Eileen Madden stopped by with the Dixons’ baked fish entrées. Linda, a diabetic, received carrots and zucchini as side courses. Don got mashed potatoes but was hoping to start his meal with an oatmeal raisin cookie from the cold platter.
Meals at Home relies almost entirely on volunteers and private donations but also receives a small federal grant from the city of Evanston.
The federal funding comes through the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program that Trump proposes to eliminate.
Losing that funding would not put Meals at Home out of business, but it would take a toll, Genthe said. Meals at Home also provides services in Skokie, New Trier Township and parts of Lake County.
Meals on Wheels America says its network receives 35 percent of its funding from another federal program, the Older Americans Act, the fate of which is uncertain.
All the Meals on Wheels provider organizations are different. Some are entirely volunteer operations. On the opposite end are big cities such as Chicago, which due to the enormous need, operates its program through city government, contracting out meal preparation and delivery.
Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler of the Department of Family and Support Services, said the city provides 2.4 million meals annually to 6,900 seniors in their homes at a cost of $8.6 million, with $1.8 million from CBDG funding and most of the rest from the Older Americans Act.
Butler thinks the numbers alone speak to the program’s success.
“I just don’t understand the attack on this program,” she said.
Studies have shown seniors receiving home delivered meals — from a caring visitor — not only eat better but save the government money by reducing the need for more costly services such as hospitalization.
But Trump probably won’t be dissuaded by studies. The way to stop these cuts is to make sure members of Congress know they are unacceptable.
Butler sought to calm fearful seniors by noting the president’s budget is just a proposal and that nothing has been decided.
True, but how can we be sure Trump isn’t thinking: Let them order room service.
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