Get our priorities straight


One of the discussion points on President Trump’s budget proposal is how it will affect Meals on Wheels. It’s true, that the federal funding is indirect, being provided through community development block grants administered by the states, but it has value in the conversation about our priorities as a nation. Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director, said such programs in the block grants like Meals on Wheels and after school programs are not showing any results. To paraphrase, feeding the elderly and children is not a public value.

O.K. then, let’s talk about fiscal value. According to Meals on Wheels America, the annual meal cost is $2,765 for 250 days, about the same cost of one day in the hospital which, for the elderly, would be paid in large part by Medicare. Volunteers also provide a daily check on the well-being of those who receive the meals. Without such support, the individual might have to go to a nursing home, at a potential Medicaid cost which could exceed $40,000 a year.

Typical of many social services programs, the federal block grant dollars to Meals on Wheels are a key part of a funding stream that also includes state and local funds, volunteer support, and payment by recipients. I have personal knowledge of the value of Meals on Wheels. Last summer, I injured a vertebra in my neck and had to wear a disabling neck brace. I couldn’t do my usual driving, grocery shopping and cooking, but I tried to tough it out. As a result, even with the help of family members, I ended up back in the hospital for several days, funded by Medicare. When I got home, Meals on Wheels, which I paid for, helped me get back to independence, and I could discontinue the service.

It’s been said that a budget is a moral document. It exposes our values as citizens. “The Government,” which is often maligned by some on the political spectrum, is, in its best form, the vehicle for our combined action in a way unable to be matched solely by volunteer agencies.

The Declaration of Independence opens with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted….” The Constitution picks up the theme: that a purpose of government, among other purposes, is to “promote the general Welfare.”

These founding documents affirm that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as the general welfare ARE the business of government. Food, clothing, shelter, and yes, health care for everyone are ingredients in these ends. Let’s get our national priorities straight.

— Bertie Dell