Chicago-area groups concerned, confused over Meals on Wheels budget cut talk

Leaning on a cane near the window of her living room Friday, Ollie Carter was glad to see a delivery driver park in front of her West Pullman home, then enter through the screen door with trays of turkey, sweet potatoes and other prepared foods."I'm...

Chicago-area groups concerned, confused over Meals on Wheels budget cut talk

Leaning on a cane near the window of her living room Friday, Ollie Carter was glad to see a delivery driver park in front of her West Pullman home, then enter through the screen door with trays of turkey, sweet potatoes and other prepared foods."I'm...

19 mart 2017 Sunday 12:45
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Chicago-area groups concerned, confused over Meals on Wheels budget cut talk

Leaning on a cane near the window of her living room Friday, Ollie Carter was glad to see a delivery driver park in front of her West Pullman home, then enter through the screen door with trays of turkey, sweet potatoes and other prepared foods.

"I'm really not able to cook my meals and stuff like everybody else," said Carter, 70.

She is one of 7,000 homebound seniors in Chicago who receive two meals a day through the city's meals-on-wheels program, one of the largest in the U.S., said Anthony Fiore, director of operations for Open Kitchens, which contracts with the city to prepare and deliver the food.

But the federal budget blueprint released this week by the White House has led to confusion about the future of such programs, fueled in part by comments from budget director Mick Mulvaney, who specifically named Meals on Wheels as one of the programs "that don't work," and one that he "can't defend anymore."

Lucia West Jones, executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Agency on Aging, which receives state and federal funding to operate home-delivered meal programs to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 seniors in the collar counties, said she did not believe the prospective cuts would affect local seniors.

"There is no need to wring your hands at this point in time," Jones said. "This is just the beginning of the budget process."

Meals-on-wheel program Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune Arnold Matthews, left, talks with Lueretha Chambers, from the city’s meals-on-wheels program, after he receives his meals and a box of other food items in Chicago on March 17, 2017. Arnold Matthews, left, talks with Lueretha Chambers, from the city’s meals-on-wheels program, after he receives his meals and a box of other food items in Chicago on March 17, 2017. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Other directors of Illinois meals-on-wheels programs said they feared the worst — from reductions in meal services to layoffs for already thin program staff to unfair and irresponsible treatment of seniors.

"You have people who are in need of this program who, over the course of their lifetimes, have contributed to our state and to our economy and to the townships that they live in," said Julie Carco, nutrition director for Will County Meals on Wheels. "Now we're saying to them, 'You're not worthy of anything.'"

In Illinois, the operation and funding of home-delivered meal programs for seniors — provided by both a national organization known as Meals on Wheels and also through other programs — is complicated. Some meal programs encompass a single county and are operated by just one social service agency, such as Catholic Charities, which serves meals to homebound seniors in Lake County. Other programs distribute meals to parts of several neighboring counties. And still others, like Chicago's, are operated by the city, which contracts with a catering service to serve seniors in need.

Some meal programs hire staff to deliver meals. Others depend on volunteers.

But all meals-on-wheels programs in Illinois are paid for with a combination of federal and state funding and donations. To receive federal funding, the meal programs must serve people who are homebound and 60 or older.

Meals on Wheels isn't 'showing any results' only if you ignore all these results Christopher Ingraham

At a news conference Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's budget chief, defended proposed cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, which provides food aid to needy senior citizens, by saying the program is one of many that is "just not showing any results."

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit...

At a news conference Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's budget chief, defended proposed cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, which provides food aid to needy senior citizens, by saying the program is one of many that is "just not showing any results."

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit...

(Christopher Ingraham)

Sitting on his beige couch next to family portraits inside his South Side home Friday, Arnold Matthews rattled off his list of medical issues: two open-heart surgeries, collapsed lung and diabetes. While he was in the hospital in 2012, staff referred him to the Meals on Wheels program.

"I'm a miracle on wheels myself," the 70-year-old said. The meals are convenient and healthy and easy, he said.

He watched CNN on Friday morning and saw mention of the possible budgetary cuts to Meals on Wheels. "Every day, it's something new with this guy, every day," he said of President Donald Trump.

Fiore, of Open Kitchens, said he received on Friday several calls from seniors who were concerned that meals they have depended on for years would no longer be available.

"I hope that we don't ever have to break them that news," said Fiore, who added that, for now, he and his staff are unsure of what to expect. "There's really no way to prepare for it. We're already doing this the most efficient way that we can."

Trump’s budget could be 'devastating' for Meals on Wheels of Northwest Indiana Becky Jacobs

A line of volunteers and staff wearing hairnets packaged food in the kitchen as David Byrd loaded up a truck to deliver the meals to people around Lake County as part of Meals on Wheels of Northwest Indiana.

In her office, Executive Director Sandra Noe played CNN on her computer to watch the national...

A line of volunteers and staff wearing hairnets packaged food in the kitchen as David Byrd loaded up a truck to deliver the meals to people around Lake County as part of Meals on Wheels of Northwest Indiana.

In her office, Executive Director Sandra Noe played CNN on her computer to watch the national...

(Becky Jacobs)

Some Meals on Wheels administrators contend cutbacks in home-delivered meal programs would lead to more than just hungry recipients. For many seniors, the program serves as a daily check-in for those who have no nearby family. Others are able to stay in their homes — instead of moving to nursing homes — because the meals keep them independent.

"We know this program literally saves lives," said Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, in a statement. "We have already seen other Meals on Wheels providers have to reduce their services because of the state budget impasse; federal cuts will only further harm this already fragile network of services to the most vulnerable seniors."

In Berwyn, Lauren Doherty said she was pleasantly surprised by the way news of the budget cutbacks prompted interest from the public. On Friday, nearly 30 people contacted Community Nutrition Network and Senior Services Association, where she serves as interim director, in hopes of volunteering. Usually, the organization, which provides 1,400 home-delivered meals to seniors in Cook, Kendall and Grundy counties, gets two new volunteers each day.

"I think people are unsure, and I just think it's such a hot topic," Doherty said. But she added that she is holding off on getting too nervous. "I would venture to say that it is unlikely that this exact budget would go through as promised."

vortiz@chicagotribune.com

lvivanco@chicagotribune.com

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