Explainer: What you should know about the Meals on Wheels controversy


Sussex County Meals on Wheels is participating in the 15th annual March for Meals this month, a nationwide celebration of Meals on Wheels and the homebound and vulnerable seniors who rely on its vital safety net.

Will direct federal funding for local Meals on Wheels programs be cut?

Those programs constitute sizable funding for Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit with more than 5,000 local branches that provides hot meals and support for about 2.4 million senior citizens.

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Meals on Wheels has jumped into the spotlight in the last week after the Trump Administration released its "skinny budget".

So though it's heartwarming to see people stepping up to support Meals on Wheels in the short term, it's also important to recognize the difference between supporting the group through donations and fighting to help the group maintain its federal funding.

Though this massive jump in support for the group is certainly encouraging, the impact also comes with an irony: The proposed budget cuts aren't meant to sink Meals on Wheels entirely, but simply to reduce its reliance on federal tax dollars. But to say Trump is mercilessly cutting a program that saves elderly lives is an oversimplification of the larger budget problem.

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Meals on Wheels is responding quickly, by actively seeking donations and volunteers.

"It's not just a meal, but a wellness check", Noe said. 35% of its funding comes from the "Older Americans Act' administered by the Department of Health and Human Services". The White House also proposes cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes more than $800 million annually for Meals on Wheels.

"The federal government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results", the authors of the budget blueprint say. "No one wants to cut anything", told the CNN panel, "And I think that was the most revealing thing, as it often is, that we can not have a grown-up conversation about actually making priorities in government".

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But scientific studies have found Meals on Wheels programs are effective in improving nutrition among the elderly. Bertolette and Ellie Hollander, CEO and president of Meals on Wheels, said that the program keeps seniors healthy, prevents falls, and keeps them out of the expensive health care system. It's another example of the phenomenon of "rage fundraising", where the anger and concerns of donors to progressive and anti-poverty causes threatened by President Trump's proposed policies and budget have brought about a fundraising boom. "It is one I would never vote to cut even one dollar".