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The Fate of Meals on Wheels: Feed Homebound Seniors or Build a Wall?

"Oftentimes the drivers are the only ones the seniors come into contact with throughout the day. It's a way for them to check up on the seniors."

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About 2.4 million homebound seniors in the US get food delivered to their doors by the Meals on Wheels program. But President Donald Trump has proposed slashing federal funds for the program, as part of his new budget plan, released this week. The president's plan includes increases for the departments of defense, veterans affairs, and homeland security — which would also cover the cost of his proposed wall on the US border with Mexico.

Trump's budget director Mark Mulvaney said Meals on Wheels is one of many social programs that is "just not showing any results." A study by Brown University, however, found that the program helps seniors stay at home rather than being forced to live in nursing homes.

Meals on Wheels supports local food service programs for the elderly all over the country. Linda Lee is the executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, the city's oldest Korean nonprofit. Every week the group feeds 150 mostly Korean seniors throughout Queens. She says Meals on Wheels does a lot more than simply feed people.

"Oftentimes the drivers are the only ones the seniors come into contact with throughout the day," she says. "It's a way for them to check up on the seniors."

The Meals on Wheels program at Korean Community Services is one of a few that serve distinctly immigrant communities. In Manhattan's Chinatown, The Open Senior Center serves homebound Chinese elderly. Lee says it's important for these seniors, most of whom speak little English, to eat traditional meals.

"Some of the clients that we cannot serve, we refer them out to other mainstream agencies where they get American food or frozen food and what ends up happening is they just don't eat it and their nutrition drops."

Korean Community Services is already operating at a deficit for its meal program. Lee estimates that at least 500 additional homebound Korean seniors in Queens are eligible for the program but not able to take advantage of it. She plans to fight to keep federal funding for the program. When asked how she felt when she first heard about President Trump's federal funding priorities, she said: "My heart sank. I think we need to make sure that we take care of the people living in our own country before we are concerned about building a wall to Mexico."


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