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This is how much it costs 'Meals on Wheels' to feed one elderly person for a year

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 3/17/2017 Quentin Fottrell

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Among the services that could be impacted under President Trump’s budget proposals: Meals on Wheels. 

The administration’s proposed cuts target the Department of Housing and Urban Development and call for the elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant, which helps fund programs including Meals on Wheels, which deliver food (and human interaction) to elderly, disabled and poor recipients. “The federal government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results,” the budget proposal states. “The budget devolves community and economic development activities to the state and local level, and redirects federal resources to other activities.”

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“Meals on Wheels America,” one such national meal delivery program, says the organization can provide meals for senior citizens for one year for roughly the same cost as just one day in a hospital. The annual meal cost is $2,765 for 250 days (while the cost of one day in the hospital is around $2,271, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, private operating foundation based in Menlo Park, Calif.). “Meals on Wheels People,” a Portland, Ore.-based service and one of the largest in the country, says it costs $2,500 annually to provide daily meals to a homebound senior, while cost of institutional care for a year in Oregon is around $60,000.

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But not all “Meals on Wheels” organizations will be impacted in the same way under Trump’s budget proposals. “Meals on Wheels is not a national organization,” says Julie Piper Finley, a spokeswoman for “Meals on Wheels People” in Portland and one of the largest meal delivery organizations in the country. “Meals on Wheels” is a catch-all phrase to describe these services. What’s more, that organization doesn’t receive HUD funding, she says. “Meals on Wheels Programs & Services of Rockland” in New York, however, received a Community Development Block Grant of $25,000 for its home-bound meal delivery program for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

The White House says many of these programs are not cost effective, however. “The president said he was going to go after wasteful programs, duplicative programs, programs that simply don’t work, and a lot of those are in HUD,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the president, told reporters. “We’ve spent a lot of money on Housing and Urban Development over the last decades without a lot to show for it. Certainly, there are some successes, but there’s a lot of programs that simply cannot justify their existence, and that’s where we zeroed in.”

Some organizations say cuts to these kinds of meal programs will hurt the most needy: namely, the elderly, in this case, and children. “The administration’s proposed cuts to nondefense discretionary spending would touch on programs and services that many Americans turn to every day,” the Center for American Progress, a left-wing Washington, D.C. think tank, said in a statement. “Everything would be under threat, from Head Start for young kids, Meals on Wheels for seniors, and legal services for low-income families to post offices and funding for victims of domestic violence.”

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyologist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.


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