This Community View opinion piece has been reproduced from lohud.com, The Journal News, a USA Today Network. This article originally appeared in the opinion section of that paper on March 27, 2017.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer calls it a “cute” program. Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney says it only “sounds great.” But Meals on Wheels is a critical program to seniors in Rockland County, and one with proven, taxpayer money-saving results.
As president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Rockland, I want to dispel any uncertainty that axing Meals on Wheels funding from the federal budget won’t affect seniors here in the county. Our program currently receives about $1.576 million from federal funds and local matches, as well as a Community Development Block Grant of $25,000, without which many Rockland seniors would be left wondering where their next meal’s coming from.
Quite frankly, it’s difficult to tell how much of that total will be cut based on the president’s proposed budget. It could result in all funds being cut, an 18 percent cut (the proposed cut to HHS, where most of these funds come from) or no cut at all or something in between. I will tell you that if all federal funds to Meals on Wheels are cut, our local Meals on Wheels will be forced to either close our doors or offer a mere shell of the many services that our staff — and more than 500 volunteers — currently provide for older Rockland County adults and their caretakers.
We deliver meals to hundreds of homebound seniors, as well as neighbors living with breast and thyroid cancer, and run an adult day-care center for seniors with dementia. Our senior activity centers provide a hot meal and activities to promote mental and physical wellness to about 500 seniors every day. Research shows that without resources like these, seniors who can’t afford home health care would be relegated to hospitals or long-term care facilities, at far greater cost to taxpayers.
I recognize Mr. Mulvaney’s desire for research — it’s a priority we share. That’s why we’ve spent the last few months researching evidence-based program models for each of the three program areas described above (meals, senior activity centers, and adult day care). Six months ago we began gathering both quantitative and qualitative data on some of the program models through both written and phone surveys. We continue to gather information and refine our surveys in order to gather the data needed to further demonstrate success.
We have always reported statistical data to the Rockland County Office for the Aging and the New York State Office for the Aging while gathering anecdotal information about the impact of our programs. Rockland County Office for the Aging receives monthly monitoring reports of our programs and audits our programs at least once a year. We are also audited by the state. The support our program receives is anything but partisan — both our Democratic county legislators and our Republican County Executive are strong champions of Meals on Wheels of Rockland.
It’s truly exciting to see through both anecdotal and quantitative data how Meals on Wheels Rockland helps both older adults and their caretakers. It is also exciting to know that as we move forward we can develop program strategies that raise the bar in our service provision — unless, of course, our federal funding is decimated in whatever final budget is voted on by the Congress.
Before anyone in Washington — Spicer, Mulvaney, House Speaker Paul Ryan or even President Trump himself — dismisses Meals on Wheels as a “cute” or ineffective program, I encourage them to come deliver a meal with me. Come, see the look on an older person’s face when their caretaker answers the door. Sometimes, our volunteers are the only people outside of their caretakers they see on any given day.
Our folks are family! And the meals we provide preserve the dignity and autonomy our seniors deserve.
Eliminating funding to Meals on Wheels would deliver a crushing blow to my agency’s ability to keep our older adults safe, healthy, and in their own homes. I urge all Rockland County citizens to contact our federal representatives and tell them to fight for our vital program—and of course we always welcome support, whether it comes in the form of a check or your precious volunteer time.
The writer is CEO of Meals on Wheels Programs & Services of Rockland, Inc.