Do budget cuts make seniors go hungry?

by Andrew Branch
Posted 7/08/13, 04:37 pm

Greg Kaufmann, author of “This Week in Poverty” for The Nation, shouts from the housetops the hardships and inefficiencies of government programs. His call to action, though, is almost always more government.

Over the last few months, Kaufmann has covered the effects of this year’s automatic $85 billion budget cuts. Called “sequestration,” the cuts took 5.27 percent from virtually every program, including organizations like Meals on Wheels (MOW).

The 70 percent of MOW providers that receive federal funds are cutting 4 million meals this year, and many seniors are without other options. “There’s great examples of many people who need the support of Meals on Wheels because they don’t have the nucleus of the family network to support them,” said Larry Tomayko, chief of staff of Meals on Wheels Association of America. “It’s not like you have a nucleus of a family safety net like you used to have.”

Kaufmann cited a study by the Center for Effective Government that did the math: If 92 percent of Meals on Wheels clients need the meals to stay independent, and nursing home care costs as much as $60,000 to Medicaid per year, the net loss to the government for cutting Meals on Wheels by $10 million could be as high as $480 million. 

The big word, though, is “could.” As Kaufmann calls for the restoration of funds, the study leaves out a crucial aspect of the whole equation: you. 

Here’s what we know. 

Fact: This year’s indiscriminate budget cuts hurt some who are poor. 

Fact: Raising taxes and expanding deficits to pay for the welfare state hurts job formation, leaving more poor people unemployed, and will bring inflation, which especially hurts those on fixed incomes.

Fact: Meals on Wheels and other sequestered programs have given detailed road maps to communities—and certainly churches—on how to bridge the gap. 

If everyone in Raleigh, N.C. gave 25 cents, it would more than pay for the 12,000 meals that Meals on Wheels of Wake County cut. But better yet, churches or organized groups of coworkers could contact local Meals on Wheels providers to scan the waiting lists to find out who is in need in their neighborhoods. 

We all have elders who cared for us, raised us. We all want to honor them, right? Kaufmann writes in another piece: “It’s enough to make you think that maybe—just maybe—this shared experience would lead to a steadfast commitment from policy makers to ensure that those who cared for us, fought for us, and raised us, are able to meet their basic needs.”

What about a steadfast commitment from chldren and siblings? Paul writes: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Government should be the last resort, helping the elderly who are alone, and not the first call. Government payments give others an excuse to do nothing, and social connections then break—leaving the elderly more alone.

Calling on the government to do or fund what we can do isn’t keeping our responsibility. It’s shirking it. When Jesus says “Depart from mefor I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat,” something tells me, “I paid my taxes” won’t be a valid excuse. 

Once we get past debating philosophy, though, Tomayko makes a just accusation: “Are they going to do it 7 days a week? Or is that going to be something that a member of the community feels that it would be a nice thing to do for a couple of days or weeks? Where’s the sustainability going to be?”

Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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