One of the most devastating attacks on Pres. Trump’s proposed budget is that it cuts funding to Meals on Wheels. The program provides meals to the elderly poor.
It is understandable that people would be upset about this prospect, which has received headlines but little real scrutiny.
There are two main questions here:
- What tasks should government undertake?
- Does the Trump budget abandon a basic responsibility and seriously cut Meals on Wheels?
The Government’s Core Responsibilities: Ensure aid to the poor and hungry
No one should go hungry.
Basic principle: If a country is wealthy enough to afford it, the state should ensure that everyone has access to healthy nutrition.
It should compel taxes to ensure that and direct some of the funds to feeding the poor. It is a very good thing we have Food Stamps, Meals on Wheels, and other programs that do that.
Some money is inevitably misspent, either by the government or recipients. But, in aiding the poor, we should remember the principle on which our criminal justice system is built:
It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.
-Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1760s)
It is better to see some money misspent than to see one hungry person suffer.
Meanwhile, we should work hard to eliminate the misspending so taxpayers are treated fairly and the money can go where it is needed.
If a person is healthy and of working age, then it is reasonable to impose some work requirements in return for such aid, if voters wish.
In a country with a vibrant civil society, then private assistance should be encouraged, as it is in the US, with wonderful effects for both givers and receivers.
Did Trump’s Budget Cut Funds to Meal on Wheels?
No, not really.
The main federal funding for the program comes, appropriately, through the “Older Americans Act Nutrition Program.”
There are no proposed cuts to that program, and Meals on Wheels says so.
So what was the New York Times talking about when it reported the cuts and everyone else parroted their report?
The Trump 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. –New York Times
So, you have one specific program cut. It is a controversial block grant program, which many consider corrupt, in which local officials have wide discretion in allocating the money. A small portion of that discretionary local allocation goes to Meals on Wheels.
Comment: What the NYT said was technically accurate but fundamentally misleading because it did not indicate that such a small percentage of Meals on Wheels funding came from this source or that the source itself was controversial and considered corrupt by many. What makes the NYT report troubling is that it is, in effect, editorial commentary wedged into a hard news story.
You can think the whole program should stay. Or you can think it should go. Or you can think, as I do, that it is fine to cut the block grant program but, if you do, then add resources to other programs that help the very poor.
But whatever you think is the best policy, you should recognize that saying the budget wipes out Meals on Wheels is not only a vast exaggeration, it is political spin.
Best Quick Summary
Contrary to news reports last week, President Trump is not eliminating funding for Meals on Wheels. He’s not even cutting it.
How do we know this? Meals on Wheels says so. A statement issued by Meals on Wheels America on Thursday notes that 35% of the revenues at the 5,000 or so local Meals on Wheels programs come via the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program.
Trump’s budget outline says nothing about this program whatsoever.
What Trump’s budget does propose is cutting is the corruption-prone Community Development Block Grant program, run out of Housing and Urban Development. Some, but not all, state and local governments use a tiny portion of that grant money, at their own discretion, to “augment funding for Meals on Wheels,” according to the statement. –Investors Business Daily