On 15 March 2017, the web site Occupy Democrats published an article about a blueprint budget released by the Trump administration under the sensationalized title “Trump Just Announced Plan to End ‘Meals on Wheels’ for Seniors.” Although the text of the article was largely accurate, the clickbait headline misled many readers into believing that President Trump had specifically proposed to eliminate Meals on Wheels, a service that delivers meals to individuals at home (primarily seniors) who are unable to purchase or prepare meals for themselves.
However, President Trump’s blueprint budget does not mention or target Meals on Wheels, nor would the adoption of that budget spell the end of Meals on Wheels. Rather, the blueprint contained a section proposing the elimination of funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program:
Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, a savings of $3 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. 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 Community Development Block Grand Program is used to fund a variety of community projects by providing grants to state and local governments, who then allocate the funds to city programs (of which Meals on Wheels is one example):
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs. Beginning in 1974, the CDBG program is one of the longest continuously run programs at HUD. The CDBG program provides annual grants on a formula basis to 1209 general units of local government and States.
The CDBG program works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. CDBG is an important tool for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities. The CDBG program has made a difference in the lives of millions of people and their communities across the Nation.
As CNN noted, one example of how the federal CDBG program works is as follows:
The government of San Jose, California, spends federal CDBG funds on homeless outreach, resolving “slum and blight” and other community development needs.
In a statement issued before Trump’s budget blueprint was released, the city said it expected to receive more than $2.5 million in funding for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. It planned to spend $100,650 of that on Meals on Wheels.
Other expenditures included legal aid, senior assistance, literacy programs and home repair for the poor.
The elimination of the federal CDBG program would reduce local funding for a number of programs, including Meals on Wheels, but the overall impact on the program is uncertain. According to the Meals on Wheels 2015 annual report, the majority of the national office’s funding (about 84%) comes from individual contributions, while only 3% comes from federal grants such as the CDBG program provides:
Though the [budget] blueprint doesn’t contain enough detail to know for certain how local Meals on Wheels programs will be affected, spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette said, “It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which they will not be significantly and negatively impacted if the President’s budget were enacted.”
Programs across the country are already serving 23 million fewer meals than they did in 2005, and waiting lists to join Meals on Wheels are growing, she said.
About 3% of the budget for Meals on Wheels’ national office comes from government grants (84% comes from individual contributions and grants from corporations and foundations), but the national association provides support and representation for a larger network of 5,000 independently operated local groups, Bertolette said.
Meals on Wheels explained in a clarifying statement that their 5,000 local, community-based programs receive 35% of their total funding from the federal government through the Older Americans Act, and that some local chapters also receive funding from the Community Development Block Grant:
The nationwide Meals on Wheels network, comprised of 5,000, local, community-based programs, receives 35% of its total funding for the provision of congregate and home-delivered meals from the federal government through the Older Americans Act, administered by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. Other federal funding sources that support Meals on Wheels program operations may include the Community Development Block Grant, Community Services Block Grant or the Social Services Block Grant. In addition, programs rely on contributions from state or local governments, private donations and other resources to cover the rest, demonstrating one of the best examples of a successful public-private partnership. Meals on Wheels America, the largest and oldest national organization representing senior nutrition programs across the country, receives only 3% of its funding from the government, specifically to run the National Research Center on Nutrition and Aging.
Although President Trump’s blueprint budget specifically stated that it would eliminate the CDBG, local Meals on Wheels groups would still receive federal funding through the Older Americans Act. However, the budget plan also proposes a nearly 18% cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and this could also potentially reduce the amount of funding local groups receive via the Older Americans Act:
“If [HHS is] getting a substantial cut, one can assume or think that those cuts will trickle down through the programs and that could end up hurting Meals on Wheels even more than the block grant,” Bertolette says.
All in all, some local Meals on Wheels groups will likely have to make up revenue shortfalls through alternative sources or cut back on their services if funding cuts are made to the CDBG program and HHS, but the national Meals on Wheels program itself won’t be shut down.
UPDATE: We changed the status of this article to MIXTURE to better explicate the difference between the national Meals on Wheels program and local Meals on Wheels groups.