Federal Funding Cuts Could be Bad for Local Meals on Wheels




Steamed vegetables, grilled chicken, a whole wheat roll, with a side of jello and two percent milk.

That’s just one example of a hot, nutritious lunch that over two thousand seniors across Memphis depend on each weekday to be delivered to their doorstep by a smiling face.

Under the national Meals on Wheels program, the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) was able to serve 409,442 meals to 3,204 seniors who are homebound or at congregate sites and are nutritionally at-risk in Fiscal Year 2016.

However, MIFA worries about the future of Meals on Wheels following the release of President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, also known as the “skinny budget,” to Congress earlier in the month. The budget focuses on federal discretionary spending levels for Fiscal Year 2018.

Non-defense discretionary programs, such as MIFA’s Meals on Wheels, could lose portions of funding, due to plans to invest in defense programs, as stated in President Trump’s preliminary budget, which will not take effect until October of this year.

“It’s really too soon to tell what the new budget’s effect will be on us,” Jim Seacat, MIFA’s director of marketing and communications, said. “But with the growing need for Meals on Wheels in Memphis, it would be ashame for the seniors in the community to have to scale back the program.”

While only plans of eliminating federal programs, including the Community Services Block Grant and the Community Development Block Grant, which fund other Meals on Wheels around the country, have been released thus far, details for budget cuts concerning the Older Americans Act, through which MIFA receives Meal on Wheels funding, have not yet been released.

The Act, which has supported senior nutrition programs for the past 45 years, provides 35 percent of funding for Meals on Wheels nationally. With a planned 17.9 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services budget, which funds the Act, MIFA officials are wary that services will be negatively impacted as a result.

Despite the potential upcoming funding cuts, officials at MIFA are confident that Meals on Wheels, supported in part by local donors and corporations, will be able to continue in the future, but with a possible decrease in the number of meals served.

“The reality is, with or without potential budget cuts, federal funding for Meals on Wheels is failing to keep pace with the growing need,” Sally Jones Heinz, President & CEO of MIFA said in a letter to the public.

According to a 2014 Plough Foundation study, there are over 3,700 food insecure seniors, not knowing when their next quality, nutritious meal will come, in Shelby County with more than 1,000 of them on the Mid-South Aging Commission’s waiting list to receive MIFA meals.

Research shows that seniors who receive proper nutrition have increased mental sharpness and energy levels, strengthened immune systems, as well as, resistance to illnesses and diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

“At a time when increased funding is needed, we fear that thousands of seniors who rely on us every day for a nutritious meal, a safety check, and a visit from a volunteer will be left behind,” Heinz said.

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