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Trump’s proposed cuts make Meals on Wheels groups worry about seniors

Barbara Makris has been legally blind since 1980.

She can’t cook.

Meals on Wheels has been a lifeline, for the most part, delivering a meal six times a week. The 94-year-old retired customer service specialist also gets help from her adult children.

“This is the only way I can stay in my home,” said Makris, who’s in the Toco Hills area and lives on Social Security. “If you can’t cook, you can’t stay at home.”

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She’s among thousands served though Senior Connections’ Meals on Wheels program. Senior Connections is just one of many agencies that are part of the Meals on Wheels network.

She has a message for Washington about proposed federal budget cuts that would affect Meals on Wheels:

“Tell them we can’t do without it,” she said. “Try not having a meal.”

Despite cuts proposed by President Donald Trump, most agree it’s too early to say what the final budget will look like and how deep the cuts will really go.

Senior Connections currently prepares and delivers about 650,000 meals annually to low-income seniors throughout metro Atlanta, either to a senior’s home or to adult day cares and senior centers.

About 45 percent of the funding comes from federal, state and local governments; the rest through special events and private donations.

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“These cuts will put an additional burden on all states — especially those who have many seniors, as Georgia does, who need meals,” Senior Connections CEO Debra Furtado said in a statement. “We also have a great number of seniors on a waiting list and we were making progress.”

The Trump administration has made it clear, though, that it plans to spend heavily on defense and homeland security and make deep cuts or end funding altogether to many government programs, including those that fund Meals on Wheels.

“We are saddened that the president is recommending cuts to a vitally needed service for older adults,” Patti Lyons, president of SCI (Senior Citizens Inc.) in Savannah, said in a text.

Enid Borden, founder and CEO of the Virginia-based National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, said the cuts, if approved, would undermine the lives of senior citizens and organizations that provide safety nets.

“Seniors are among the most vulnerable,” she said. “It hurts.”

In 2014, the most recent data available, 17.8 percent of Georgia’s senior citizens face the threat of hunger, placing it within the top 10 states in the nation, according to the organization’s website.

However, she said most programs do not rely solely on federal dollars. “These groups are the most entrepreneurial folks.”

Any cuts could see Meals on Wheels programs limiting their services and the number of meals that are delivered. Cuts would also mean longer waiting lists.

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“The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details,” said Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. “So, while we don’t know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced health care expenses.”

Some programs in the network are 100 percent federally funded, while others receive no federal funds. The aggregate is 35 percent, said a spokeswoman for the national program.

The reach of such programs, though, cannot be underestimated.

In 2014, more than 2.4 million seniors in the U.S. were served by Meals on Wheels programs, which includes home-delivered meals and congregant meals. Most of the clients are older women.

According to Meals on Wheels America, 15.7 million U.S. seniors are isolated, living alone. Often the people who deliver meals fill that gap and also check on the client’s well-being.

At Meals on Wheels Atlanta, officials are still assessing what impact proposed funding cuts could have on overall programs.

The nonprofit’s meals program is fully funded through foundation and private donations, said CEO Charlene Crusoe-Ingram.

“We get no county money, no state money and no federal money,” she said. “We are very fortunate in that regard, and that was a strategic decision made years ago by our board of trustees so that service would not be interrupted in providing for our senior clients. Sometimes government funding can be late or there’s a shortage.”

The nonprofit provides meals to about 400 seniors in Atlanta, but it also runs a home repair program, manages several senior citizens centers in Fulton County and operates an adult day care program. Those are the programs that are under review to determine the amount of government funding they receive and how proposed cuts would affect them, she said.

And there is already a waiting list for people to get on the meals delivery program.

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