Meals on Wheels – Providing Much More Than A Meal
In response to confusion around federal funding received by Meals on Wheels: Meals on Wheels services are provided directly to seniors by a nationwide network of 5,000 local community-run programs that, in the aggregate, receive 35% of their funding from the federal government. Some media outlets have incorrectly reported this number to be 3%, confusing it with the federal funding received by Meals on Wheels America, the national membership organization that does not provide direct services (e.g., meals). This miscommunication dramatically understates the significant impact of any federal budget cuts that may affect Meals on Wheels.
What we know about the budget so far: The 35% federal funding that goes directly to local Meals on Wheels programs comes from the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program that falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The impact on these funds has not yet been announced but, given the proposed 17.9% cut prescribed for HHS, could be at risk. Also announced is the proposed elimination of two block grant programs (Community Services Block Grant and Community Development Block Grant) that are available for states to direct, at their discretion, to a large number of community programs which for some states includes augmented funding for Meals on Wheels. The fate of a third block grant program that also provides discretionary money for states to use for nutrition services (Social Services Block Grant) falls under HHS, but details have not yet been announced.
The reality: is that 1 in 6 seniors struggle with hunger and 1 in 4 are isolated and living alone. We must recognize the urgent need facing Vermont’s seniors and commit to addressing it.
Here are five reasons why:
- The need is severe and continues to grow. Today more than 17,000 Vermonters face the threat of hunger and nearly 40,000 are living alone and have difficulty paying for basic living needs. With the senior population set to double by 2050, this trend will only continue if left unaddressed.
- Funding is failing to keep pace. On top of federal funding cuts, programs are experiencing state and local budget cuts, increasing transportation and food costs, unprecedented demand for services, and smaller private donations in a slow economy. This funding reality, coupled with an increasing need, means that Older Americans Act Nutrition Programs (including Age Well’s) are serving fewer meals today than they were in 2005.
- The pain is real, and it is being felt. Unfortunately, waiting lists for Meals on Wheels programs grow longer every day and those that rely on them are among our most vulnerable. Those who rely on Meals on Wheels are significantly more likely to report poorer health, screen positive for depression and report recent falls.
- Meals on Wheels programs provide a unique service. They are the only federally-supported programs designed specifically to meet the needs of seniors. The combination of proper nutrition, a safety check and a friendly visit offers the total package that enables seniors to remain healthier, independent and at home, where they want to be.
- Investing in Meals on Wheels actually saves taxpayer dollars. We can provide a senior with Meals on Wheels for an entire year for about the same cost as one day in the hospital. There’s no doubt that increasing investment for Meals on Wheels is a win-win for our families, our communities and our state as a whole.
At this critical juncture, when both the need and demand for nutritious meals are substantial and growing, we implore our community and elected officials to make the needs of our most vulnerable and isolated seniors a higher priority. We can either invest in Vermont’s aging population now, or spend much more on the negative consequences later.