Local legislators ready to fight cuts to Meals on Wheels

  • Written by Joe Boyle

While the state budget stalemate continues into June, state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) recently voiced her displeasure over cuts proposed by the Trump administration that she said would result in in the reduction of the senior Meals on Wheels program.

“Donald Trump and his extreme allies' proposal to slash funding for Meals on Wheels would jeopardize the health and wellbeing of countless Illinois seniors,” Burke said. “I stand in opposition to any proposal that would take away life-sustaining services from our seniors, while cutting taxes for the extremely wealthy.”

Burke is one of 37 legislators who are cosponsoring House Resolution 274, which states the Illinois House of Representatives' opposition to efforts to oppose any cuts to the Meals on Wheels, the congregate meals program, and community block grants that provide funding for senior meal programs.

Joining Burke in opposing cuts to the Meals on Wheels program is state Rep. Frances Hurley (D-35th). The resolution passed the Illinois House on May 24.

Burke has linked the Trump administration proposed cuts to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who she said has not “introduced a responsible budget for our state's most critical services.”

She is defending the Meals on Wheels program by voting to pass a lifeline budget to sustain it and prevent local seniors from being denied critical care.

Representatives of the Trump administration said that these critics do not have their facts straight. President Trump's 2018 budget suggests cutting funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by about $6.2 billion, which is a 13.2 percent decrease from the 2017 funding level. Half of those savings would come by eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant, which provides funding for a variety of community development and anti-poverty programs, including Meals on Wheels.

A spokesperson for Rauner said the governor is aware of the delays in funding for programs like Meals on Wheels and said they are working to change the structure of payments.

Nancy LeaMond, the executive vice president of the AARP, said that it is imperative that our nation continue to fund Meals on Wheels because the need is great.

“Meals on Wheels and many other senior programs have literally been starved to the bone while the demand for these services is greater than ever before due to aging demographics,” LeaMond said. “Without continued investments in these cost-effective programs, taxpayers will end up paying far more to hospitalize or otherwise care for the frail elderly, many of whom are homebound.”

According to officials at the Meals on Wheels program, they serve more than 2.4 million seniors from ages 60 and up. Due to physical limitations or financial reasons, many of these seniors have difficulty shopping for or preparing meals for themselves, according to Meals on Wheels.

Researchers at Brown University in 2013 said that in most states, increasing Meals on Wheels enrollment would result in a net savings from decreased Medicaid costs for nursing home care.

Besides providing food, Meals on Wheels officials said they offer much-needed human contact for homebound seniors. One of the benefits of in-person delivery is that it has decreased the rate of falls in the home, saving the nation about $34 billion a year, according to Meals on Wheels.

Many seniors who live in the southwest suburbs have benefited from the Meals on Wheels program, according to Burke.

Burke said she will continue to stand “with seniors and senior advocates like the AARP to oppose politicians' dangerous cuts to senior Meals on Wheels, which would affect the more than 115,000 elderly residents who depend on the program.”