An Assault on the Least Among Us

We cannot let our neighbors go hungry

Suzanne Washington | 6/20/2017, 12:39 p.m.
With President Trump's budget, Congress has now seen his plans for low income Americans, and Congress must wholly reject his ...
America First 2018 Budget Blueprint

With President Trump's budget, Congress has now seen his plans for low income Americans, and Congress must wholly reject his vision in their own upcoming budget.

The scale and size of the proposed funding cuts are not just staggering: they would shred decades of federal bipartisan support to ensure that the least among us - especially poor, elderly, and disabled Americans -- can maintain basic standards of living, like food to eat and a roof overhead, as well as the ability to maintain their health and dignity.

Having enough food to eat is a real problem for our nation's seniors: the National Council on Aging estimates that 10.2 million older Americans (15.8 percent of people age 60+) faced hunger in 2014. Thanks to funding from the Older Americans Act, which partially funds Meals on Wheels People, we are able to delivery fresh, nourishing meals to 5,000 older adults every weekday.

Many Meals on Wheels programs also rely on both Community Development Block Grants and Community Service Block Grants. The president's budget eliminates the CDBG program, which will have a devastating impact on the ability to serve and deliver meals. It is the combination of funding sources that allows Meals on Wheels programs to feed our most vulnerable elders.

Making it even more difficult for our participants to get the nutrition they need, Trump's budget also dramatically shrinks and alters SNAP (food stamps), another key source of nutrition for our low income seniors -- and for more than 676,00 Oregonians statewide.

Trump's budget not only cuts $193 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years, it also ends the federal commitment to provide food assistance to low income people by shifting 25 percent of SNAP's cost to states over 10 years.

The cost to Oregon alone would be more than $1.8 billion. If, as is likely, our state could not fill the hole created by these cuts, states would be allowed to slash benefits, including eliminating the minimum benefit -- currently $16 per month. This would result in 57,000 people in Oregon, mostly elderly and people with disabilities, losing SNAP benefits altogether.

Even with the support of Meals on Wheels People, we know it's not enough for many of our participants and they rely on the additional support of SNAP to make sure they have enough to eat every day. Norma, who lives alone in a small home in southeast Portland, survives on her income from Social Security. She relies on both SNAP benefits and her daily meal delivery from Meals on Wheels People for the majority of her food. If one or both are eliminated, Lois will go hungry. We cannot let this happen to our elderly neighbors.

Adding insult to injury, Trump's budget doesn't just eliminate food assistance for seniors -- by breaking his promise not to cut Social Security and slashing Social Security Disability Income and Supplemental Security Income by $72 billion over 10 years, this budget cuts a critical source of income for some of our participants. These benefits are essential for people with disabilities who can't earn a living wage. According to Federal Center on Budget and Policy, just over 95,000 working-age Oregonians with disabilities (3.8 percent of Oregon's 18-64 year olds) received SSDI and/or SSI in December 2015.

We see every day how this net of services created with bipartisan support over the years ensures that our clients can be healthy and live independently with dignity. Meals on Wheels People depends on more than just federal funds to make our program work -- our local and state governments contribute their share, as do more than 450 volunteers who show up every weekday to help their neighbors in need.

Far too many Americans are just one illness or one accident away from financial disaster or physical incapacity. Congress must not ignore the evidence that these programs work. Congress must propose a budget that provides a reliable foundation our community's health and well being for anyone facing disability, illness or old age.

Suzanne Washington is the executive director of Means on Wheels People.