Opinion: Impact of Proposed Federal Budget Cuts

By Pamela S. Bechtel, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Lehigh Colunty & JoAnn Nenow, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Northampton County

Our social service safety net is under greater threat than we have seen in recent times. The proposed fiscal year 2018 federal budget includes decreases for sources of funding that support Meals on Wheels programs in the Lehigh Valley and across the country.

These decreases include funding for the Older Americans Act, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid and elimination of the Community Development Block Grant. If these cuts are put in place, private funding sources (such as individual contributions and grants) will have to be stretched even farther to meet the growing need for home-delivered meals for our home-bound neighbors.

Federal funding provides the foundation for the Meals on Wheels nationwide network. Consider these facts: Eight out of ten Meals on Wheels programs receive federal funding in some form. And two out of three of these programs rely on federal funding to cover 1/3 or more of their operating budget.

To meet the need for home-delivered meals, wellness checks and friendly visits to more than 2,400 clients here in the Lehigh Valley, our two Meals on Wheels programs in Lehigh and Northampton counties depend on a combination of federal funding, private donations, state funding and sliding-scale fees.  Now is the time to invest further in this vital public-private partnership to ensure our vulnerable seniors are not forgotten.

Any federal cuts will force Meals on Wheels programs across the country to make tough choices, including the possibility of creating a waiting list for meals, reducing the number of days meals are served or eliminate special diets and preferences. This would be devastating to those who need our program. Our clients cannot cook or shop for themselves and they need home-delivered meals because they have no other way to get the nutritious meals they need to improve their health and well-being. Many of them need special medically tailored meals.

We know that 96 percent of our clients tell us that Meals on Wheels provides them with their main source of food. If we are forced to cut back and serve fewer seniors, these vulnerable at-risk people will be hungry and their health will be compromised. How can we make them wait?

Reductions or even level federal funding will only make matters worse, as the demand for Meals on Wheels is already significant and rapidly growing. One in six seniors struggles with hunger every day, and the senior population is expected to double by 2050.

According to Christine Miccio, Director of Bureau of Aging Services at the PA Department of Aging (PDA), with more than 3.9 million Baby Boomers projected to become eligible for aging services in Pennsylvania by 2020, PDA anticipates the demand for home-delivered meal services will “rise concurrently and become that much more important to helping to ensure that the nutritional and health needs of seniors are adequately met while helping them to age in place in their homes and communities.”

Older Americans Act nutrition programs are already serving 23 million fewer meals today than they were in 2005, due to funding failing to keep pace with an increasing need. And on top of federal funding cuts are state budget cuts, increasing transportation and food costs and the increasing number of nonprofit organizations who are accessing the same donor pools for funding.

At this critical time, when both the need and demand for nutritious meals are substantial and growing, Congress must make the needs of our most vulnerable and isolated seniors a higher priority. Now is the time to tell our Representatives and Senators to save lunch for our clients by protecting and increasing federal funding for Meals on Wheels programs and putting a balanced budget in place.


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