The first budget blueprint to Congress has caused a great deal of concern and confusion. Many media outlets, for instance, incorrectly reported initially that the government was defunding Meals on Wheels programs.
We received a lot of unexpected attention as a result - and a lot of concern from the people we serve, our dedicated volunteers and the public at large. We need to separate fact from fiction so people understand the ramifications that proposed federal budget cuts could have.
Meals On Wheels is not a federal program and, thus, can't be eliminated by any federal budget. Meals on Wheels is a proven public-private partnership that successfully improves the quality of life for our most vulnerable seniors and adults with disabilities. We ensure that our clients receive the nutrition they need to stay healthy and live in their homes for as long as possible.
Our Meals on Wheels programs in Northampton and Lehigh counties are independent nonprofit organizations and aren't chapters of a national organization. This year, we must raise a combined total of $1.2 million to meet the needs of our community.
Our funding comes from a number of sources. Our programs depend on client payments that are on a sliding scale but don't cover the cost of their meals. We also depend on government funding, which accounts for about one-fourth of funding for both of our agencies. This funding includes the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program - a program that the budget blueprint would discontinue.
Over the past five years, we have received more than $280,000 in grant monies from our counties' CDBG programs. These grants helped to purchase meals, commercial kitchen equipment as well as fresh produce from area farms through our Better Fresh Project, an initiative that incorporates locally grown fruits and vegetables into our clients' daily meals.
Of greater concern is the proposed 17.9-percent cut in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services. The primary source of federal government funds for Meals on Wheels programs under the Older Americans' Act (OAA) comes from this department. Nationally, 35 percent of the total funding for Meals on Wheels (both for senior center meals and home-delivered programs) comes from OAA.
Details for if, or how, OAA will be impacted by the proposed budget have not yet been released, but any cuts to OAA will surely have an impact on Pennsylvania and our local Meals on Wheels programs.
Our state ranks fourth among all states in the percentage of people who are 65 and older. By 2030, Pennsylvania's 60-and-older population is expected to be 29 percent of the population--approximately 4 million people.
Governor Wolf's Bureau of Aging Director, Christine Miccio, told the House Aging and Adult Services Committee that, with more than 3.9 million Baby Boomers projected to become eligible for aging services in Pennsylvania by 2020, the department anticipates the demand for congregate and home delivered services to rise concurrently.
Here in the Lehigh Valley, we expect to serve 565,000 meals this year to our clients and to those whom we serve under meal contracts. We are serving 24 percent more meals than we did just four years ago. Trends in our aging demographics show that the need for our program will continue to increase.
We have proudly served our community for more than 45 years and will do so for many more years to come. While we will continue to provide meal deliveries, friendly visits and other programs such as grocery shopping services, the proposed budget cuts, if enacted, will force us to find additional sources of private funding which will be challenging.
Congress will ultimately decide how funds will and won't be allocated in the next budget, but a 17.9-percent cut in funding to the Department of Health and Human Services and the potential loss of CDBG funding are truly worrisome.
JoAnn Bergeron Nenow and Pamela Bechtel are Executive Directors for Meals On Wheels of Northampton County and Lehigh County, respectively.