Benefit Bulletin: July 2013

Benefit Bulletin: July 2013

Cuts to Meals On Wheels Having "Devastating Impact"

Across the country Meals on Wheels programs are reducing the number of meals delivered to low-income seniors or shutting down altogether according to a new survey. The programs typically deliver a hot prepared meal five days a week to people over 60 who are homebound and/or unable to shop and cook, low income, or all three. Without Congressional action, the programs will be cut by about $38.7 million in federal funding this year due to the automatic budget cuts known as "sequester."

The Meals on Wheels Association estimates that could mean 19 million fewer meals will be served. According to a Meals on Wheels survey, 70% of programs are cutting the number of meals served, 50% are reducing the number of seniors being served, and one-in-six are closing community center meal sites, or home-delivered programs.

The programs were struggling even before sequester. Federal funding has remained flat for years, even though about 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day.

The threat among seniors of going without nourishing meals, especially those who are older and depend on Social Security for the majority of their income, like many Notch Babies, is very real. In addition to the cognitive and health problems that interfere with good nutrition as seniors age, the national median income of people over 65 is only $25,757. About one-in-seven seniors has little money left over for food after paying basic monthly expenses like housing, utility, and healthcare costs.

The cuts in federal aid to Meals on Wheels programs may end up costing the government if seniors need to move to nursing homes. The Center for Effective Government released a report estimating that the cuts would add $489 million a year in Medicaid costs for the remaining months of fiscal 2013. The group said that even if only 350 people were admitted to nursing homes due to missing out on Meals on Wheels deliveries and then stayed there at least a year, the savings from the sequester cuts would be lost. The Medicaid share of keeping someone in a nursing home for a year is about $57,878.

"This is a budget cut that makes no sense," says TSCL Executive Director Shannon Benton. "Meals on Wheels is a low-cost program that reduces our nation’s healthcare bill and more importantly helps seniors stay in their home and remain independent," she says.

So far both Congress and President Obama have been cool to the idea of restoring funding to Meals on Wheels. That could change if Members of Congress start hearing from their senior constituents. Do you know someone who is losing their Meals on Wheels due to budget cuts? Write a letter to the editor of your local paper!

To find the Meals on Wheels program in your area, check the Eldercare Locator or call your local Area Agency on Aging.


Source: "Sequester Savings on Senior Programs Would Add New Cost, Study Says," Kerry Young, CQ Roll Call. "Meals on Wheels Budget Cuts: 'Slowly Developing Crisis,'" Jeanne Sahadi, CNN Money, May 6, 2013.