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Media hysteria over supposed Meals On Wheels cuts debunked from Left and Right

Media hysteria over supposed Meals On Wheels cuts debunked from Left and Right

Mother Jones and National Review agree that media claims of cuts are false

The internet exploded this week with the “news” that President Trump’s budget proposal included cutting and/or completely eliminating the Meals on Wheels program.  The headlines were outrageous clickbait that had little to do with the actual budget proposal.

For example, New York Magazine has an article entitled, “White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is ‘Compassionate’,” Rolling Stone has one entitled “Meals on Wheels Seniors Respond to Trump: Cut Something Else,” the BBC writes that “Meals on Wheels cut back prompts backlash,” and Slate declares that “Trump’s budget director says Meals on Wheels sounds great but doesn’t work.”

The problem with these and the many other such headlines is that Trump is not cutting, and is certainly not eliminating, Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels receives the majority of its funding from private donations, donations that surged following the release of President Trump’s proposed budget.

Additionally, the bulk of the federal funding that does go to Meals on Wheels comes from HHS and remains unaffected by the proposed cuts to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).  The media, however, doesn’t let facts get in the way of their faux outrage, fear-mongering, and fake news.

Gobbling up the misrepresentations and lies, even Seth Myers set aside time for a rant during his show.


Via the Daily Beast:

“Meals on Wheels?!” the host asked, incredulously. “How dead inside do you have to be to not want old people to get food? Your heart is so small it makes your tiny hands look like catcher’s mitts.”

“Old people voted for you!” he continued. “Your key demographics were old people and older people. They believed you when you said you cared about them. There’s nothing more low-life than lying to the elderly. You should know that. You’re 70.”

While Meyers did not discuss his own connection to Meals on Wheels during his broadcast, he did reveal on Twitter that his mother is a volunteer for the program, writing, “My mom, who is also my hero, is a Meals on Wheels volunteer so I had some thoughts in tonight’s A CLOSER LOOK.”

For a refreshing change, it’s not only the right who are calling foul on the media’s knee-jerk shrieking about Trump’s diabolical plan to starve America’s elderly population; the left is also pushing back.

On the right, the National Review explains the myriad problems with the misleading and often downright false “reporting” by the national media.

It made for great copy — irresistibly clickable and compulsively shareable. “Trump’s Budget Would Kill a Program That Feeds 2.4 Million Senior Citizens,” blared Time’s headline. “Trump Proposed Budget Eliminates Funds for Meals on Wheels,” claimed The Hill, in a piece that got 26,000 shares.

But it was false. And it wouldn’t have taken long for reporters to find and provide some needed context to the relationship between federal block grant programs, specifically Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and the popular Meals on Wheels program.

I started on the organization’s own website. From Thursday’s conversation in the press, it was easy to assume that block grant programs — CDBG and similar block grants for community services and social services — are the main source of federal funding for Meals on Wheels. Not so.

Instead, as the national site explains, the major source of federal funding for the programs, accounting for 35 percent of overall local budgets, comes through the Sixties-era Older Americans Act. (Local programs also obtain support from state and county governments, private donors, and so on.)

According to the website, cuts have not been announced in Older Americans Act funding, although the group fears that they may lie ahead.

So why all the outrage?

The National Review continues:

So where do the federal block grant programs come in? Well, they give states and localities a lot of discretion on where to allocate the money. One option is to add money to supplement Meals on Wheels funding. Some do use it for that purpose.

But as Scott Shackford makes clear in his new piece for Reason, that isn’t what CDBG is mostly about. CDBG funds regularly go into pork-barrel and business-subsidy schemes with a cronyish flavor. That’s why the program has been a prime target for budget-cutters for decades, in administration after administration.

It’s important to the CDBG program’s political durability that its grantees wind up sprinkling a bit of extra money on popular programs mostly funded by other means. That way, defenders can argue that the block grants “fund programs like Meals on Wheels.”

That’s what happened in the press this week. The New York Times got things rolling by reporting that the new budget proposes “the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper then boiled it down to a tweet: “On chopping block: $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds programs like Meals on Wheels.”

The NYT and Tapper are wrong, something that even a moderately curious person might easily check by simply going to the Meals on Wheels website.

Over at Mother Jones, a progressive website, they call the media spin on this portion of the proposed Trump budget “ridiculous” and lay out exactly why it is so.

Here’s what really happened:

  1. The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs a program called Community Development Block Grants. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It provides funds to states that they can use for a variety of approved purposes.
  2. Last year, the Obama administration recommended cutting its budget from $3 billion to $2.8 billion.
  3. This year, Mulvaney proposed that the program be eliminated entirely. Here’s what the Trump budget has to say about it:

Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, a savings of $3 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results. The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level, and redirects Federal resources to other activities.

  1. Some bright bulb noticed that a few states use a small portion of their HUD CDBG money to fund Meals on Wheels. Actually, small isn’t the right word. Microscopic is the the right word. Elderly nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels receive about $700 million from other government sources—most of which aren’t targeted one way or the other in the Trump budget—but hardly anything from CDBG grants.
  2. Here is Mulvaney’s full quote after getting a question that, for some reason, focused on Meals on Wheels:

Housing and Urban Development, and the Community Development Block Grants, aren’t exclusively about housing. They support a variety of different programs, including, in part, Meals on Wheels. In Austin Texas today, one organization there that delivers those meals to thousands of elderly, says that those citizens will no longer be able to be provided those meals. So what do you say to those American who are ultimately losing out?

As you know, Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. It’s part of the CDBGs, the block grants, that we give to the states. And there have been many states that have made the decision to use that money for Meals on Wheels.

Here’s what I can tell you about CDBGs, because that’s what we fund, is that we’ve spent $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs by the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And great, Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular program.

But to take federal money and give it to the states and say we want to give you money for programs that don’t work, I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt, we’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people. [emphasis not mine]

Mother Jones further notes that the majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels doesn’t even come from HUD in the first place.

I’m no expert on community block grants. I don’t know if they’re a good idea or not. And God knows the Trump “skinny budget” is a disgraceful piece of work for the richest country on the planet. But spinning this as “Mulvaney guts Meals on Wheels” is pretty ridiculous.

The vast majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels—which comes via HHS’s Administration on Aging, not HUD’s CDBGs—remains intact. Someone managed to plant this idea with reporters, and more power to them. Good job! But reporters ought to be smart enough not to fall for it.

It’s tempting to file this away as #WhyTrumpWon and as further proof of media bias, but in light of the all-out attacks on the president from a media that sees itself as part of the regressive “resistance,” it might be more complicated than simple Trump Derangement Syndrome.  They seem perfectly happy to toss the remaining tattered shreds of their credibility to the winds in pursuit of whipping the public into a frenzy in order to “stop Trump.”

Unfortunately, the fall-out from this willful lack of interest in reporting the truth has the seemingly intended effect, outraging ordinary Americans who take to social media repeating the misleading information they’ve been spoon fed by the media.

The problem for the dishonest media, however, is that all of this outrage is ultimately impotent because the cause of it simply doesn’t exist.

No one likes being lied to and used as a political tool, so when it finally seeps down to these people that what they believe to be true is not and that Meals on Wheels is not in danger, they’ll not only stop being outraged but will be wary of jumping through these media-constructed hoops in future.


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Turns out the vast majority of community block grants monies are targeted for neighborhoods in the Virginia, Maryland Washington DC area. The richest neighborhoods in America and the neighborhoods of Federal employees and lobbyists. Hmmm

    This is my shocked face 😮

    Minor correction: Not only the richest neighborhoods, but homes of the highest-paid Federal Employees and political appointees. The lesser GS-7 flunkies have to live much further away from the job to be able to afford an apartment with their three-hour commutes.

Repeat over and over – without lies, distortion, deceit they have nothing !

Interesting. Left and Right America are coalescing, perhaps reconciling. Make America great, again.

Common Sense | March 19, 2017 at 6:09 am

The democrats and the media plan:

Deny, Dispute, Destroy!

I am the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland and we are looking at significant cuts which will not only reduce the number of people served but also limit the other support services they would receive.

Meals on wheels NATIONAL organization gets 3% from the community services block grant. Our organization receives ~50% of our budget through the Older Americans Act. The OAA funding IS at risk since it comes through Department of Health and Human Services which is targeted for 15 billion dollars or 17.9% in cuts. That money comes from the federal government to states and is then distributed to organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

Contrary to what the administration is espousing, Meals in Wheels has rigorous research that shows its efficacy AND it leverages public support and in kind support better than most organizations.

We currently serve ~1500 people per day as well as senior centers, day cares, and other congregate meals which adds up to over 1 million meals per year. Loss of this funding would mean that we would have to seriously reduce the number of people we can serve as well as support services aimed at keeping them in their homes and out of hospitals and nursing homes.

    Thank you so much for logging in and sharing your perspective. It’s very important. Yes, the proposed Trump budget does propose cuts to HHS, and the cuts to HHS are highly unlikely to affect Meals on Wheels as they are directed at the decreased strain on HHS funding in the wake of the ObamaCare repeal.

    There is nothing in the Trump budget that directly targets Meals on Wheels, nor is it likely that the president, whose concerns are many, has even considered doing so.

    That said, loss of funds, even if that were to occur as a result of budget cuts resulting from the president’s proposed budget, may not impact Meals on Wheels at all. As you note, the states distribute these funds, so the persons to contact are the state officials in your state.

    I am a bit alarmed that your immediate response is that any cuts that may trickle down will automatically impact the number of people served. There should be a comprehensive audit, and cuts should begin with salaries, perks, and benefits of employees, should include a review of suppliers, menu items, and a host of other things before even considering a cut to the number of people served.

    The bottom line: the Trump budget is a proposal . . . much like Obama’s annual budget proposals that frequently didn’t garner even a single Democrat vote and never passed in either house of Congress for eight straight years. Congress controls the purse strings, and in this case, the states divvy out the monies. With the cuts to HHS targeting ObamaCare-related items, it’s unlikely that Meals on Wheels will be affected at all.

      notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to Fuzzy Slippers. | March 20, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      RE: “comprehensive audit” You said it!

      Agreed the cuts should start at the top with the “administrators.”

      These types of operations should be volunteer jobs paying ZERO salaries – just as United Way positions in the local community are.