TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
— With severe government spending cuts set to go into effect, many Americans are worried about losing their jobs, having their pay reduced or losing social services subsidized by the government. One group of Americans likely to be hard hit are low income elderly citizens, including those who get a hot meal and a sandwich every day from a network of organizations across the country known as Meals on Wheels
The volunteers and staff at Meals on Wheels in Takoma Park, Maryland feed two meals a day to between 30 to 40 home-bound senior citizens and disabled clients.
Many of the volunteers are seniors themselves. They use their own cars and pay for the gasoline to make deliveries.
Joan Debrule is a Meals on Wheels client. She looks depends on her meals and looks forward to her favorites. "If I did not have the Meals on Wheels, I have a problem with my knee and I can't stand for long hours cooking, and I don't know, I may be institutionalized," she said. "I don't know what would happen to me."
Katherine Yowell feels the same way. "I enjoy the volunteers very much and the thoughtfulness of the manager. They do nice little things for our special holidays and everything," she added.
There are Meals on Wheels groups across the country. Most are public-private partnerships. Ellie Hollander heads the Meals on Wheels Association. "The majority of our programs are reliant, in some fashion, on federal funding," Hollander explained. "So the impact of a reduction of 5.1 percent to those programs that are receiving funding through the Older Americans Act translates to $41 million nationwide, in terms of reduction, and that is significant."
Hollander says this could mean as many as 19 million meals for seniors might be reduced or eliminated. For some, she says, that would cut their lifeline to the outside world. "One of the most important things about providing meals is they are nutritious and they also are that social connection, which is so important to people's independence and basically their empowerment and how they feel about themselves," she stated.
President Obama has called on Congress to act to avert the spending cuts, warning they will hurt the most vulnerable. Republican leaders are blaming the president for not doing enough to stop the cuts.
Joan Debrule says some seniors feel powerless at the hands of Congress. "We're at the mercy of them, and they are not in our shoes," she noted. "They are up there, they have a job, which Americans are paying for."
Back at the Meals on Wheels kitchen, everyone is hoping the president and Congress will find a way to replace the automatic spending cuts with more targeted measures.