INCLUDING SENIORS, TAXPAYERS, CONGRESS AND THE ADMINISTRATION
Ellie Hollander, Contributor
President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America
On behalf of a network of some 5,000 local, community-based Meals on Wheels programs, we are extraordinarily heartened by the outpouring of support from the public and media over the merits of Meals on Wheels and the impact that budget cuts of any kind would have on our programs’ ability to provide nutritious meals, friendly visits and safety checks to our nation’s most vulnerable seniors. For more than four decades, Meals on Wheels programs in communities large and small, urban and rural, have worked tirelessly under the radar, trying to stretch already inadequate funds far enough to support older adults in the greatest social and economic need, enabling them to live out their lives healthier, and more safely and independently in their own homes — where they want to be.
As this week marks the 45th Anniversary of President Nixon’s signing of the legislation that created the Meals on Wheels infrastructure, we should all be celebrating its impact and finding ways to invest in it further because it is in fact working successfully for everyone:
It’s working for 2.4 million seniors. Meals on Wheels is their lifeline and often the only companionship or nutritious meal they have in a given day. Far more vulnerable than comparably-aged Americans, a typical Meals on Wheels client is a single 75 year-old woman, living alone with limited or no mobility, suffering with multiple chronic diseases, reliant on several medications daily and in need of our help.
It’s working for Congress and the Administration. Meals on Wheels is one of the best examples of a successful public-private partnership as it leverages about $3 in individual, corporate, foundation, business, state and local contributions for every $1 in federal funding, and the able help of some two million volunteers, two-thirds of whom are 55 and older. As Speaker Paul Ryan wrote in his War on Poverty Report in 2014, this is one program that is targeting precisely those for whom it was intended.
It’s working for taxpayers. Meals on Wheels saves significant money by enabling seniors to remain at home longer, averting more expensive healthcare expenses incurred through Medicare and Medicaid. By preventing and expediting recovery from illness, injury and surgery, Meals on Wheels reduces unnecessary visits to the Emergency Room, admissions and readmissions to hospitals, and premature placement in nursing homes.
A study conducted for Meals on Wheels America by Brown University showed that seniors receiving Meals on Wheels reported fewer hospitalizations, improved health, less loneliness and fewer falls, which cost our country $31 billion annually. In a separate study, Brown University showed that for every $25 more per senior a state pays for Meals on Wheels, the low-care nursing home population could be reduced by 1%, saving additional millions of dollars in Medicaid savings alone, by enabling seniors to live in their own homes.
It’s working for the public. Meals on Wheels is a home-grown and economic solution that helps ensure that no senior is left behind, hungry or alone. It enables us to assure that our aging and vulnerable neighbors and loved ones are being looked after in a caring and compassionate manner.
And yet, while successful and well-leveraged, we are not doing enough. The need is far greater than what we are able to do with the funding that is currently available. Not only are we serving 23 million fewer meals today than we did in 2005, but that gap is widening. Waiting lists exist in every state while the senior population continues to explode.
As the country looks for ways to reduce the debt – to do more with less – we ought to be investing in those programs that are in fact proven and effective in doing so. Meals on Wheels can provide a whole range of services to a senior for an entire year for roughly the same cost as one day in the hospital or 10 in a nursing home. We all win.
Please join us on behalf of the seniors in your community and across the country to take action now. Speak up, volunteer, or give what you can. Seniors need us and we need you.