Nourishing our community
Last month elected officials from across the state took an hour out of their schedules to join Meals on Wheels volunteers as they made they made their rounds. The intent was to place the spotlight on this program that provided 345,262 meals to an estimated 1,200 homebound Rhode Island residents last year.
The visits where recipients had been notified in advance and were prepared for an entourage of Meals on Wheels officials and news media representatives have been conducted for years as a means to give the program exposure. They’re effective in illustrating how important these meals and visits are to people who can’t get out.
That was the message again this year, although the larger question to the future of the program looms. Nationally, many Meals on Wheels programs rely largely on Community Development Block Grant funding. In his proposed budget President Trump targets the grants, which are now in their 42nd year, for elimination.
CDBG funding that is tied to income levels based on Census data augments a cross-section of service and bricks and mortar projects. Nationwide it is a substantial chunk of money - $3 billion – and would go a long way in meeting President Trump’s objective to increase military spending without increasing taxes or pushing up the national debt.
Fortunately, from a purely self-serving perspective, Meals on Wheel Rhode Island is not dependent on CDBG funds. Of its $3 million budget, $535,000 comes from state funds while an even bigger chunk at about $930,000 flows from the Older Americans Act administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. The balance is largely made up through donations and a voluntary payment of $3 a meal by recipients.
This is not to say the program is on firm financial footing.
Older Americans Act funding may also come under the Trump budget axe. Those who run Meals on Wheels in Rhode Island fear that is a possibility, but until the federal budget is ironed out they continue to operate under the assumption there will be some form of funding to sustain operations. That’s a positive. Sounding the alarm would be premature.
Yet, it would be a mistake, not to recognize that a major source of funding could be swept away by Trump’s perceived mandate to throw out the old and build a new, or simply, eliminate another layer of government.
Meals make for an easy target. After all, it can be argued, friends and family should be able to provide services for these shut-ins if they are not capable of financing those services on their own. Some of that is likely to happen and unquestionably sectors of the non-profit community would step in as they have done with food pantries and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
According to the Administration on Aging, a home delivered meal program can deliver a year’s worth of meals to a senior for the same cost as one day in the hospital, or one week in a nursing home, thus saving the state millions in Medicaid and Medicare costs.
Purely from a return on investment, Meals on Wheels is an efficient and effective program giving the community returns that are difficult to measure in dollars and cents. Empowering people to stay in their homes not only saves on costs of managed care, but also gives them a choice and dignity as they depend on the assistance of others. In addition, Meals on Wheels volunteers provide a level of personal connection and check on these vulnerable members of our community. The meal is a part of that, but it is the person-to-person contact that is also nourishing.
Let’s not lose sight of that as budget priorities shift.