First rule of a proposed federal budget cut: Leave grandma out of it.
This memo did not make it to the White House last week when President Donald Trump’s blueprint budget (aka, wish list) was revealed.
Trump’s budget would cut every federal agency with the exception of three, but a real uproar broke out when people learned of the administration’s call to eliminate Community Development Block Grants.
The $3 billion CDBG program is administered by states for a wide range of their community development needs; the anti-poverty dollars help fund universally loved programs such as housing and Meals on Wheels.
But in the end, Trump’s proposal might be nothing more than a stalking horse — a chance for him to reiterate his core values (and for his opponents to trumpet theirs), but with no real chance of it going anywhere.
In the unlikely event his plan survives congressional scrutiny, the wheels won’t fall off the 43-year-old national meals program. The organization’s website says the program receives less than 2 percent of its money from CDBG funds.
Peter Nazall, long-term care director for Catholic Community Services in Western Washington, was baffled by all the clamor. He said the majority of federal funding comes from the Older Americans Act, a program that has assisted seniors for the past 45 years, the state Senior Citizens Act, private donations and the small fee charged to seniors.
Catholic Community Services is one of three in Pierce County responsible for home-delivered meals program for seniors at a reduced cost. The other two are Lutheran Community Services Northwest and Mom’s Meals.
In 2016, the local Pierce County home-delivered meals program received $418,993 ($361,294 federal/ $57,6999 state) and served 104,180 meals to seniors.
Even if Trump manages to eliminate the block grants, the 2.4 million American seniors who rely on home delivery service for their nutrition will not be denied. But his willingness to put Meals on Wheels on cinder blocks says something about where his heart lies.
White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney makes no apology. He said Trump wants to eliminate programs that have not proven effective, that are in his words “just not showing results.”
Unfortunately, in the realm of public services, there’s no differential analyzer ready to rapidly calculate which anti-poverty programs are a waste and which are effective, though a 2013 study out of Brown University showed that expanding programs like Meals on Wheels allows more seniors to stay in their homes and out of nursing homes — a net savings that could be calculated.
If the Trump administration wants real proof of effectiveness, they should talk to one of the stakeholders, maybe a senior citizen who has mobility issues and can’t stand over a hot stove. They can ask her how “effective” that daily dose of nutrition is, not to mention the human contact, however brief, that increases her sense of well-being.
Trump is right to question the effectiveness of all agencies in his budget. But since Congress decides the real spending, his proposal is merely a list of his priorities. (And our reaction to the president’s budget is a reflection of our priorities.)
The recent outcry over the health and well-being of seniors should send a message to the president and Congress as they consider the fate of Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor and disabled.
Over the next decade, the GOP plan would gut $880 billion from the program. The plan would also cut taxes by some $275 billion, mostly for those in the upper-income tax bracket.
Trump’s budget also calls for cutting 17.9 percent in the Department of Health and Human Services and eliminating a host of other programs including Low Income Home Energy Assistance and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which sponsors the Pierce County Senior Companion Program.
Most Americans can get behind cuts to pork barrel spending and business subsidy schemes. But if we learned anything from this most recent false alarm, it’s that the very idea of trampling on the elderly is an invasion of sacred territory.