Riverhead Town receives about $100,000 a year in federal funding for its Meals on Wheels program that could be at risk under the budget proposal released Thursday by the White House.
The funds come to the town as a pass-through from Suffolk County’s Office for the Aging, from title III funding under the Older Americans Act. The money helps underwrite the cost of meals provided by Riverhead Town at its senior resource center on Shade Tree Lane.
Riverhead’s Meals on Wheels Program serves more than 120 residents daily, said senior citizens program director Judy Doll. And there’s a waiting list.
The longstanding program — it was established long before Doll started working for the town nearly 30 years ago — provides a daily hot meal to elderly residents who can’t provide one for themselves.
“Many are homebound and too frail or infirm to cook for themselves,” Doll said. “Some are widowers who just never learned to prepare meals — that was common in their generation,” she said.
Town workers visit an applicant’s home to perform an assessment to determine that they fit the criteria for the program, according to Doll.
The town runs four different routes delivering meals.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said a a press briefing Thursday the administration can’t defend spending tax dollars on programs that “don’t work” or can’t “prove” they work.
“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. Meals on Wheels sounds great,” Mulvaney said, questioning its effectiveness.
Nationally the program serves 2.4 million people.
“In a lot of cases, we’re the only human contact they may have for extended periods of time,” said Laurie McKillop, who helps package the meals and makes deliveries.
“We check up on them to make sure they’re okay. We’ll sit and chat with them. It goes a long way for them,” she said, adding that after working more than 25 years in the school district’s transportation department, “I feel like I’ve found my calling.”
It’s that very contact that not only helps the elderly day-to-day, it even helps decrease government spending overall, according to researchers.
Researchers at Brown University concluded programs that help older adults live independently in the community can also deliver net savings to states on the costs of long-term services.
“We estimate that if all states had increased by 1 percent the number of adults age 65 or older who received home-delivered meals in 2009 under Title III of the Older Americans Act, total annual savings to states’ Medicaid programs could have exceeded $109 million,” wrote Brown professors Kali Thomas and Vincent Mor in the journal Health Affairs.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said if Congress agrees with President Donald Trump’s budget plan and funding for Meals on Wheels is slashed, the Town of Riverhead will find a way to fund it.
“We’re not going to let President Trump or Governor Cuomo or County Executive Bellone balance their budgets on the backs of our senior citizens,” Walter said today.
Another major pot of federal funding comes to Riverhead Town through the Community Development Block Grant program. The town uses the approximately $138,000 of block grant funds to make several $5,000 grants to local nonprofits, including the Bread and More Soup Kitchen, Maureen’s Haven, the Dominican Sisters, and the Riverhead Community Awareness Program. The block grant money also funds the town’s home improvement program, which makes urgent home repairs for needy residents. If those funds are cut, Walter said, two part-time employees who work in the home improvement program would find their jobs eliminated.
The president’s “America First Budget Blueprint” outlines the administration’s intentions for the federal government’s discretionary spending, which represents about one-third of the annual federal budget. Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the legal authority to appropriate federal funds.