POLITICS
03/17/2017 05:35 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2017

Meals On Wheels Sees 500 Percent Surge In Volunteers Since Budget Cuts Proposed

Online donations have also skyrocketed this week.

Meals on Wheels America says it has seen a 500 percent increase in volunteer signups and 50 times more online donations than usual in the 24 hours since President Donald Trump’s administration proposed eliminating the program’s federal funding.

“It’s been heartwarming to see this groundswell of support over the last 24 to 48 hours,” Jenny Bertolette, vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels America, told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Volunteers are our backbone. We couldn’t deliver meals without [them].”

Since Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to millions of elderly, poor and housebound Americans, draws a significant amount of its funding from donations, Trump’s proposed budget cuts wouldn’t totally shut down the organization. But the cuts could end up restricting resources to federal agencies that provide additional grants to the program.

Trump’s “skinny budget,” released Thursday, would gut the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s entire $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program ― a blow to low-income Americans who rely on the services it funds, including initiatives like Meals on Wheels.

The Administration on Aging, established under the Older Americans Act in 1965 to administer grants for senior citizens programs, provides roughly 35 percent of Meals on Wheels’ funding. But under Trump’s proposed budget, the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the Administration on Aging, would face a 17.9 percent slash in funding.

Nancy Brennerman, center, makes a Meals on Wheels delivery to Josephine Hayward, 93, of Portland, Maine, on Christmas Day 201
Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Nancy Brennerman, center, makes a Meals on Wheels delivery to Josephine Hayward, 93, of Portland, Maine, on Christmas Day 2015.

Bertolette said the cuts could have a devastating effect on some of the 2.4 million senior citizens served by the organization. One Meals on Wheels program outside Detroit risks losing 30 percent of its annual budget if the block grant is scrapped. Administrators are contemplating scenarios where they’d have to cut food deliveries in half or put more seniors on the program’s already overloaded waitlist.

“The scary thing about that is that funding is already not keeping up with pace,” Bertolette said. “There are already demands that we can’t meet. There is already a waitlist crisis...  If this budget was enacted, it would obviously just make matters so much worse.”

Despite studies touting the health and economic benefits of programs like Meals on Wheels, the Trump administration claims the initiatives “aren’t showing any results.”

“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good and great,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, said Thursday. “And Meals on Wheels sounds great.”

Bertolette hopes corporations and philanthropists would fill in the funding gaps if the budget is passed. In the meantime, she encourages the organization’s supporters to reach out to their elected officials and make their concerns known.

“It’s definitely hard for [some of our recipients] to speak on their own behalf,” said Bertolette. “We need our voices.”

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