Meals Recipients Threatened Under Trump Plan

Millions Could Lose Service Without Federal Funding

Claudette Johnson of Maryland is one of more 2.4 million Americans whose daily meals could be cut off if Congress approves President Trump's plan to defund Meals on Wheels. (Courtesy of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland)

Charles Abel, a 65-year-old man living in Baltimore, is among the millions of Americans who rely on Meals on Wheels, a program that President Trump plans to cut dramatically under his budget proposal.

White House Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney said Meals on Wheels “sounds great,” but doesn’t provide a real service.

“We’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people,” Mulvaney said at a recent press conference.

Abel, a cab driver for 27 years who now has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, disagrees.

“If it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels, I’d be a lot skinnier,” he said. “If I was left without them, I would not be eating as healthy as I am. I’d be surviving on sandwiches and McDonald’s.”

And it’s not just the meals, said Abel and other Meals on Wheels recipients.

“Sometimes the Meals on Wheels people are the only people I talk to in a day, and they’re nice people,” Abel said. “One of the guys is a serious Beatles fan. So, whenever he finds new songs, he burns me a CD.”

Meals on Wheels delivers food to seniors and individuals with disabilities who cannot go to the store to purchase their own food. About 2.4 million people receive meals from 5,000 locations nationwide, according to Jenny Bertolette, vice president of communications at Meals on Wheels America.

Bertolette said Meals on Wheels needs bipartisan support.

“Both sides need to do their part to make sure these seniors aren’t forgotten,” she said.

Under Trump’s proposed budget to Congress, programs that receive funding from Community Development Block Grants could get cut, including Meals on Wheels.

Trump’s budget eliminates the grants, totaling about $3 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Local branches depend heavily on that federal funding.

“In Alabama, Meals on Wheels is a lifeline for thousands of low-income seniors, veterans and the disabled,” said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). “Cutting funding for this program means condemning those in need to a life of hunger and isolation.”

More than 42,000 seniors in Alabama rely on Meals on Wheels and 90 percent of recipients in Alabama say the service makes them feel safe and secure, according to a Meals on Wheels report.

One of the program’s oldest and largest branches is in central Maryland, which serves an area that includes Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Montgomery counties, its officials said. It receives 56 percent of its budget through the federal government.

“We serve about 1,500 clients daily,” said Guy Arceneaux, senior director of marketing and communications at Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland. “Every $8 taken from our budget is a meal for a senior that will never be served.”

About 27 percent of the branch’s clients are African-American, Arceneaux said.

The Maryland budget for Meals on Wheels is $8.5 million, he said. If the federal government halts funding, the program would lose nearly $5 million.

Consequently, the program will have to reduce the number of people it serves, he said.

“That means going from delivering meals five days a week to three, or two meals a day to one,” he said. “Programs already can’t keep up with demands. So they’ll have to add seniors to waiting lists or, in the worst-case scenario, they would have to turn seniors away and people relying on the service now would not be able to get it anymore.”

Retired nurse Dorcell Walker, 65, is another Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland client. Walker, 65, has Parkinson’s disease and lives alone in Baltimore, where she’s resided for more than three decades.

Walker uses a wheelchair, which she said makes it difficult for her to move around the kitchen.

“Parkinson’s is debilitating and crippling and it’s hard to hold a pot, because I shake and I’m weak,” she said. “It’s dangerous for me. Meals on Wheels delivers hot and cold meals in a container that’s lightweight enough for me to handle.

“Meals on Wheels is a godsend to me,” she said.

Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland provides other services, including safety and wellness checks, companion visitors, grocery shopping assistance, home repairs and pet food deliver.

John McDuffle, 67, another longtime Baltimore resident and Meals on Wheels recipient, said his late wife received Meals on Wheels and now he’s enrolled in the program.

“They really help me so I don’t have to go outside if it’s cold or snowy, or too dark,” he said. “The volunteers respect me and they always come when they say they’re going to.”

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