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May 24, 2017 (New York, New York) – The President’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, released yesterday, confirms our worst fears. It includes the most drastic cuts to the country’s anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs in a generation, leaving our most vulnerable citizens – including many of the homebound elderly we serve – without a basic safety net.
The budget cuts specifically target multiple funding sources for local meals on wheels programs. The Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, the primary source of federal funding for meals on wheels across the country, would decrease by $3 million from its current level. In addition, several block grants, which some states rely on for their senior nutrition programs, would be eliminated entirely.
The budget also cuts 25% – $193 billion – from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, over the next 10 years. This would strip support from the very Americans who need it most, as 83% of households on SNAP currently include children, elderly adults or people with disabilities. In fact, nearly 5 million adults over the age of 60 rely on SNAP benefits each year.
These cuts in federal funding for nutrition programs will inevitably lead to greater demand for meals on wheels. This comes at a time when local home-delivered meal programs are struggling to keep pace, stretching tight budgets to the breaking point.
Today in New York City, one in 10 seniors face hunger. With almost 20% of New Yorkers over age 65 living below the federal poverty level, too many are forced to choose between rent, medicine and food. At a time when our city’s and our country’s senior population is only growing, the proposed cuts are profoundly shortsighted.
While the Trump Administration has argued that programs like Citymeals are ineffective, this is simply not true. Among New York State seniors who receive home-delivered meals, 92% have said this service enables them to live independently at home – saving taxpayers billions in healthcare costs.
The guarantee of a nourishing meal and a warm smile provides a necessary safety net for recipients like 105-year-old Rita who – even after celebrating her 100th birthday – continued to volunteer 500 hours each year at her local senior center. She speaks for so many of them when she says: “I feel as long as I’m alive, I want to live. Old people are still capable of doing things and participating.”
We know our meal recipients still have the ability to lead extraordinary lives. We also know the President’s budget proposal is not expected to become law. The plan announced yesterday uses seniors as a bargaining chip in the budget negotiations – and that’s not acceptable. Older Americans who have worked hard, raised families, fought in wars, and given so much to their communities deserve better.