Donations won’t be enough to save Meals on Wheels under President Trump’s budget plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Meals on Wheels America said they've received more than $100,000 in donations since Thursday, but it's not because of a sudden increase in American philanthropy. Rather, it's in response to massive cuts in domestic spending proposed by President Donald Trump.

How Meals on Wheels is funded

Meals on Wheels is not funded by the government directly. Rather, it gets money from a mix of local, state, and federal programs, along with donations. The majority of its funding comes from grants from the Administration for Community Living. That's an agency of Department of Health and Human Services, which would see a 16% across-the-board cut under President Trump's budget plan. Last year the agency had a budget of $227 million budget for home-delivered nutrition services, meaning the cuts comes out to more than $36 million.

Meals on Wheels also gets money from a community development block grant program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that's been around since Gerald R. Ford was president. HUD's most recent figures put the funding for senior services at around $33 million. However, Trump's 2018 budget plan eliminates the entire $3 billion dollar program, which primarily benefits America's most vulnerable citizens.

The impact of cuts on services

The proposed cuts would have a major impact on the kind of work Meals on Wheels could perform. While the national program has multiple sources of funding and only gets a small percentage of it from grants, the 5,000 local branches across the country rely on them a lot more. Federal grants make up a much larger chunk of their annual operating budgets, and without those funds, it would be nearly impossible for them to continue feeding the 2.4 million Americans in the same way they do now.

"Each state allocates this funding differently, so it's difficult to summarize the total impact on the nationwide network," Meals on Wheels spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette said shortly after the president's budget plan was released. "We know for certain that there are Meals on Wheels programs that would lose vital funding if this proposal went through."

The path through Congress

Democrats are already taking issue with the President's budget priorities. "We have reached a new low in America," Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas said at an event supporting Meals on Wheels in Houston Sunday. "The president has introduced a budget that wages an all-out assault on working families, on seniors, on young people, on our values, and on our country's future."

Rep. Jackson-Lee sits on the House Budget Committee, and will be front and center as Congress builds the budget. She's hoping to rally enough support to make big changes to the president's budget. “These cuts are immoral and would devastate the most members of our community who have already suffered enough,"Jackson-Lee said. "We must stand together to fight for American values and say no to the Trump budget.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan responded to criticism of the President's budget, specifically when it comes to the domestic cuts. "With respect to any of these types of programs, this is the beginning of a very long multi-stage process of budgeting," said Ryan. "I'm glad that the administration got going. I want financial pressure, I want spending caps, because that makes us focused on cutting spending that is worthless spending."

Ultimately, Congress bears the responsible for passing the budget. President Trump's plan will only serve as an outline for his own legislative priorities, so there's still an opportunity for changes. However, with Republicans in the majority of both houses of Congress it will be difficult for Democrats to make significant changes without the support of at least a few members from across the aisle.

If recent budget negotiations are any indication, that won't be easy.