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Seniors Won’t Starve if Meals on Wheels Loses Government Grants

Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:49
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As Scott Shackford has noted, Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for zeroing out the oft-abused Community Development Block Grant program, which is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program is rife with waste, fraud, and abuse but because it also funds the popular Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to housebound seniors, well, it shouldn’t be cut at all, right?

But does Meals on Wheels rely on government grants to do its good work? There are hundreds of Meals on Wheels organizations around the country, so it’s hard to generalize, but overwhelmingly, the groups get the majority of revenue from charitable giving, not government funds. In 2015, for instance, the national Meals on Wheels reported that government grants accounted for just 3 percent of its annual revenues of $7.5 million. Meals on Wheels for San Diego County in California says that government grants made up just 1.5 percent ($68,534) of its revenues of $4.4 million. Not all branches are so independent. Atlanta’s group gets 48 percent of its revenue from government grants (none of the annual reports I looked at broke down exactly what level of government or specific program supplied the money). Many of the annual reports don’t even break down revenues by source (see here) and others aren’t even posted online.

The point? As Matt Welch writes, we have gotten so used to increased government spending on everything that any cut to any program is automatically cast in apocalyptic terms. As I wrote earlier today, I’m no fan of Donald Trump’s budget, which actually fails to reduce net discretionary spending and ignores completely the far larger issue of “mandatory” spending on entitlements, which, along with interest on the debt, comprises about two-thirds of the federal budget. But the plain fact is that we have for years now been spending far more than we raise in taxes.

That simply can’t continue indefinitely and there’s every reason to believe that massive, persistent deficits that are covered by continual increases in national debt tamps down economic growth. Despite all manner of attempts to goose tax revenue upwards, it’s exceptionally rare when the feds can squeeze more than about 18 percent of GDP out of us for any length of time. Simply put, we need a government that spends less and does less. And that means that not all programs, even ones that do good work, can or should be paid for out of taxes. In many cities, Meals on Wheels would barely be affected by losing all federal grants. In others, the local citizens (and corporations and charities such as The United Way) would need to step in to fill the void. That’s hardly the worst possible outcome—can Atlanta not really feed its poor senior population via philanthropy?—and it certainly shouldn’t stop Americans from coming to terms with basic fiscal realities.

The problem with Trump’s budget plan is that it spends exactly the same amount on discretionary outlays as President Obama’s did—right around $1.1 trillion. The only difference is that what Trump subtracts from non-defense programs, he plows back into the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. That’s not progress and it’s not even good politics. It would be better to put the military on a diet along with the rest of the government and explain exactly why all agencies should be doing more with less.


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