Cuts to Meals on Wheels Leave Seniors Hungry, Increase Health Care Costs for Government

You may have heard that Republicans are forcing (even more) cuts in programs like Meals On Wheels. Big deal, another “budget cut” to reduce the dreaded “government spending.” But what does all of this this mean to actual, real people? Read this because what really happens to real people isn’t pretty.

And get this, for all the damage these cruel cuts do to real Americans, they don’t even actually “cut” spending — they increase it. Because doing cruel things to actual, real people leads to cruel results. See below.

Deficit Hawks

The crowd that complains about “government spending” instead of mass unemployment and poverty and low wages and offshoring of jobs tends to live pretty well. These are the upper-level people with all the influence over what our government does. They have good-paying jobs, health insurance, matched-IRAs, a stock portfolio and plenty of savings for retirement, new cars, dinners at nice restaurants, vacations. . .

To this crowd, “government spending” is academic, not something that is for them. To them it’s just a problem. Taxes mean they have a few less dollars to spend, but are not something they will really feel. Academic. What do they care? It's not something immediate or in their face, unlike the perception of "redistribution."

Living a life with plenty of money changes a person. You can’t help it. Problems just are not as pressing, immediate . . . as serious as they are for so many Americans.

The people at the table who complain about just splitting the bill, when they didn’t eat as much — they’re just annoying.

Why don’t people with beat-up cars get something that isn’t so ugly?

“If they complain about how they can’t afford to go to another concert I’m going to have to stop doing things with them.”

“She’s got a Masters Degree, why doesn’t she find a job that pays more than minimum wage?”

The thing is, times have changed. A lot of people are not finding good jobs anymore, a lot of people are not getting by anymore. The economy does not work, and a lot of people are vulnerable, in need, and hungry.

What Budget Cuts Really Do To Real People

Here is a hard, cold reality that might help you understand the human impact of cuts in government spending. The “sequester” is forcing serious cutbacks in the “Meals on Wheels” program — along with so many other programs so urgently important to real people (cancer clinics, Head Start, even parks). But the sequester isn’t the first round of harsh budget cuts forced by Republicans. Previous budget cuts also hit people hard, and there is proof.

Here is an example of what happened when Meals on Wheels were cut and the results were studied.

January, 2011: The cuts.

From Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's "Cuts hit Meals on Wheels"

The Times of Munster reports that about 100 seniors whose meals had been funded will see those meals reduced or eliminated entirely under the cuts announced this month by Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp. . . .  funding has also been cut for a program that provides extra meals during the winter so clients can refrigerate them in their homes in case poor weather interrupts regular meal delivery.

Besides reducing meals, Noe says the cuts also add to the isolation of some seniors by reducing or eliminating their socialization with food delivery crews.

Valparaiso Merriville Community.com, Funding cuts impact senior meals,

Meals on Wheels prepares nearly 2,000 meals each day for Lake County senior citizens in need.

Yes, that’s how bad things are out there, just one county in Indiana has 2,000 seniors who need this program. That is not academic. That is real.

September, 2011: The results.

Indiana Economic Digest, Cutbacks leave low-income seniors ‘in a bad situation’

More than one-third of respondents in the March survey conducted of Meals on Wheels clients whose meals were reduced reported losing weight after the cuts and one-quarter claimed to be “food insecure,” fearful of running out of food or going hungry.

Wait, did you read that right? It’s so bad out there that seniors who suffered these cuts had to literally stop eating? One-third “reported losing weight after the cuts.” And another 25 percent on top of that were “fearful of running out of food or going hungry.”

And now, with these results in front of their faces, they are forcing even more cuts?

The Cuts Don’t Actually “Cut” — They Increase Spending

But wait, there’s more. The study of the results of the cuts in food to seniors found that the money saved on cutting food to seniors actually causes the government to spend more, because of what happens to seniors when you stop giving them food.

South Shore Journal: The Impact of Nutrition Program Service Cuts on a Senior Population in Northwest Indiana. From the abstract:

Low-income seniors receiving home-delivered meals in Northwest Indiana experienced service cuts in late 2010 and early 2011. Reductions came in the form of fewer food deliveries per week, less food, or new cost-sharing. Six months after the cuts began, 283 seniors who experienced reductions were surveyed. Ninety-five responded for a 34 percent response rate. Twenty-five percent of respondents were identified as “food insecure,” more than four times as great as statewide and national prevalence rates among seniors. A disturbingly high 35 percent of respondents lost weight in the six month period. The authors warn that continued budget cuts for community-based senior nutrition programs is a penny-wise-pound-foolish fiscal policy given the documented risk of increased hospitalizations and premature nursing home admissions attributable to nutritional disorders among the elderly.

These “cuts” don’t even actually “cut.” Because they cause the government to have to spend on “increased hospitalizations and premature nursing home admissions attributable to nutritional disorders.”

And this is what our Republicans are demanding more of. It is not just cruel to cut off things like food to poor seniors. It is also stupid, because it doesn’t even save money – the one thing Republicans actually care about.

Cruel and stupid. But we knew that. How do we get them out of the way, so our country can move forward again?

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Dave Johnson
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