President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, provided a window into the administration’s priorities Thursday when he was asked about deep cuts in funding for federal Community Block Development Grants, which some states use to provide funding for Meals on Wheels. That’s the program that provides warm, nutritious meals to more than 2.4 million elderly and disabled people in the U.S. The meals are often delivered by volunteers to the homes of seniors who live alone or are shut-ins.
Mulvaney launched into a diatribe about “results” — he used the same word later when defending cuts to free and reduced school lunch programs — to explain that taxpayers can’t be expected to fund programs unless the government can show the money will “be used in a proper way.”
Meals on Wheels and similar programs, Mulvaney said, “aren’t showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. Meals on Wheels sounds great. … (But) I can’t defend that anymore.”
If those sound like the heartless, soulless words of a heartless, soulless administration, that’s because they are. Return on investment cannot be measured in taking care of our most vulnerable, the Trump administration is saying, you must show us tangible results. Perhaps Trump wants your 84-year-old grandmother to help build his big, beautiful wall in exchange for getting an $8 lunch delivered five days a week.
And the worst part? Trump’s cuts won’t reduce the national debt. Republicans’ dreams of slashing money for Meals on Wheels and the school lunch program are the means toward a massive military buildup. The cuts are debt-neutral. They won’t save any taxpayer money. Trump just wants to shift money to buy more fighter jets and tanks. There’s no word if taxpayers get to make sure Trump’s new toys will “be used in a proper way.”
Brian Arett, the executive director of Valley Senior Services, had a diplomatic and telling response when asked what he thought of Mulvaney’s offensive comments. Arett is in charge of the regional Meals on Wheels program that serves six counties in southeast North Dakota.
“I want to take him out to deliver Meals on Wheels sometime,” Arett said on my 970 WDAY radio show Friday morning. “He’s going to know it’s more than just a feel-good thing, even though you do feel good doing it. It’s significantly impacting lives.”
Some figures, available on the Meals on Wheels web site:
- 18,859 seniors in North Dakota were served by Meals on Wheels programs in 2016, including 5,215 home-delivered meals.
- 1,119,743 meals were served by Meals on Wheels programs in 2016, including 512,171 that were home-delivered.
- In Minnesota, 61,487 seniors were served by Meals on Wheels last year, including 13,709 home-delivered.
- 3,411,477 meals were served in Minnesota, including 1,588,497 that were home-delivered.
Arett estimated the average age of a Meals on Wheels recipient in this area of North Dakota is about 83. The vast majority, perhaps 80 percent, live alone. Most of those, Arett said, are shut-ins.
Results, Mulvaney? You want results? We got your results right here.
“Everybody knows that if you bring a warm meal into the home of a person that’s homebound, can’t do their own cooking, can’t get out for meals … you’re making a difference,” Arett said. “Anybody that’s delivered Meals on Wheels would back that up. You know when you’re bringing food to somebody in their 80s or 90s that lives alone, that’s going to help them continue staying in their home. The longer they stay in their home, the better it is for them and the better it is for us societally because it’s cheaper.
“It’s cheaper to be in your own home than to be in a nursing home. One year of Meals on Wheels in terms of cost is equal to six days in a nursing home. One day in a hospital is equal to one year of Meals on Wheels. Take your choice.”
Arett isn’t worried about Mulvaney’s words, nor Trump’s budget. He attributes the budget director’s comment to sensationalism “to stir up the rabble that they are trying to rouse.” Arett said while some money for North Dakota’s Meals on Wheels program comes from CDBGs, the bulk comes from the Older Americans Act. That was not addressed in Trump’s budget.
“I want to make sure people who get Meals on Wheels know the sky is not falling,” Arett said. “It could happen, but it hasn’t happened yet so let’s not worry right now.”
There is another aspect to Meals on Wheels that can’t be measured by statistics, which means Mulvaney and other conservatives who want demonstrable results for their money probably won’t believe it. If you talk to anybody who has volunteered to deliver Meals on Wheels, they’ll tell you the importance of providing not only a meal, but a conversation or a handshake or a hug. Human contact.
“Probably 80 percent of people who get Meals on Wheels live alone and the only person they are going to see all day is that volunteer,” Arett said. “It’s a significant contact for that person. It’s a way for them to get human contact during the day. … The only person they are going to see, many times, is that person delivering meals.”
Remember the words of Trump’s budget director: “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. Meals on Wheels sounds great. … (But) I can’t defend that anymore.”
What price compassion? What price humanity? What price dignity? What price love?
Some things, perhaps all important things, cannot be measured with dollar signs or a return on investment. That doesn’t mean they don’t bring results.
Meals on Wheels needs volunteers locally. Always. Call (701) 293-1440 if you’d like to volunteer. It’s five days a week, beginning at about 11 a.m. It takes about 45 minutes to deliver the meals.