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Nearly every weekday, a small white pickup drives down Mansfield Avenue south of Wilshire Boulevard to deliver meals to a senior in need.
The driver, Lorenzo Early – dressed in a blue polo and jeans – hops out, checks his list and unloads a meal from the back of the truck, which is designed to maintain cold and hot food.
“For many of these people, I’m the only person they get to see all day. If Trump wants to cut this, it would start a terrible ripple effect,” Early said, as he hurried to get to the next client on time.
Early delivers meals for Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles – which operates a senior nutrition program similar to Meals on Wheels and Project Angel Food. But they may have to cut back soon after President Donald J. Trump proposed cutting funds and grants that support home delivery programs.
To balance an increase in defense spending, Trump proposed cutting Housing and Urban Development and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) – which many states choose to use on programs like Meals on Wheels. According to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget for the White House, the federal government has spent $150 billion on CDBG grants since the program was created in the 1970s. Mulvaney explained that Trump looked at the CDBG program as a whole – not how states choose to spend those funds – and saw $150 billion spent over 40 years “without appreciable benefits to show for that type of taxpayer expenditure.”
“The CDBGs have been identified as programs since the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore,” Mulvaney said. “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great – again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion. But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work – I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore.”
Many Democrats and Californians criticized many aspects of Trump’s proposed budget, which will not become law in its current form. Mulvaney stressed that it outlines the changes the president would make to the federal government’s discretionary spending. And Congress ultimately controls the country’s budget. But Trump’s proposal sent a message that described the direction he wants to take as the leader of the nation.
Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) called the proposed elimination of the Meals on Wheels program by Trump “bizarrely cruel.”
“I double dare the Republicans to let seniors starve,” Lieu said in a statement.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, was a long-time volunteer at Project Angel Food. He said the budget continues Trump’s “inhumane approach” in being “hostile to Americans.”
“These are evil actions,” said O’Farrell, whose mother benefited from Meals on Wheels. “Anyone who has one foot planted in the real world knows how critical these services are.”
Mulvaney said the budget proposal was not a hard-hearted measure and that the government should only spend taxpayer money when it can guarantee that it is being “used in a proper function.”
“You’re focusing on recipients of the money,” he said, in response to concerns about Meals on Wheels programs. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein said California received more than $400 million from CDBG programs last year.
According to the 2015-16 biannual report for Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, the program received more than $10 million – 25 percent of its entire budget – from government funding. David Gershwin, a spokesman for Jewish Family Services, said the program is not funded through Meals on Wheels programs, but they do receive funding from federal grants, and said the program risks losing funds with Trump’s proposal.
“The same types of issues apply,” he said. “This puts at risk a meal program that many senior citizens depend on.”
Richard Ayoub, executive director of Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, said his organization became concerned about funding as well after the White House released the proposed budget.
“It is a major concern because Meals on Wheels serves a very vulnerable population, and some Meals on Wheels and our organization have clients that cross over,” he said.
The nonprofit organization has delivered more than 10.5 million meals since its inception in 1989, and estimates that it will deliver more than 565,000 meals this year, free of charge and medically tailored for residents living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, kidney failure, congestive heart failure and diabetes. But even at current funding levels, some programs are struggling to make ends meet. Before Trump released his proposed budget, Project Angel Food announced that for the first time in its 27-year history, it is faced with a waiting list of clients in need of food. Since the start of the year, the amount of people requiring support has increased dramatically.
Ayoub said they discovered one of the reasons they have the increased demand is many clients are fearful Meals on Wheels would be eliminated soon, so they are choosing to depend on Project Angel Food. Ayoub said his organization does not currently receive federal block grants. But two weeks after Trump was inaugurated, the organization was told that funds from FEMA that they normally receive will be cut by 18 percent. Additional funds come through the Ryan White Act, but Ayoub said they also do not know what is going to happen with those funds moving forward.
Sister Alice Marie Quinn, director of St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels program, said they do not receive federal funds. But she said they expect to be affected as well by federal cuts because the programs that do receive those grants have waiting lists right now.
“Then they refer those clients to us,” she said. “We take anybody if we can get to them. … We will get more clients now.”
She said the program received federal funding in the past, but when funds were taken away without notice, they learned “don’t trust the government, trust God.”
Project Angel Food’s waiting list currently stands at 104 clients. Demand is beginning to outstrip the supply of funds. Project Angel Food estimates that it would cost $2,018 to take one client off the waiting list and feed them for one year.
The weekend after Trump released his proposed budget, he traveled to Florida for the weekend. According to analysis by Politico.com, that trip cost taxpayers more than $3 million – enough to take 1,486 people off of Project Angel Food’s waiting list.
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