Two weeks ago, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, defended his office’s recommendation to reduce federal support for state spending on “Meals on Wheels” programs by saying that
…we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.
While the program may show compassion for Meals recipients, he said he wants to show compassion for the taxpayers who pay for the meals. The cut is justified, Mulvaney insisted, because Meals on Wheels doesn’t show any results.
Before moving into showing that Meals on Wheels DOES show results, The Curmudgeon would like to offer two observations.
First, it is EVER a bad idea to feed people who are hungry and can’t feed themselves?
And second, the administration is being awfully selective about demanding proof of the value of its expenditures, isn’t it? After all, if we accept the argument that having a nuclear arsenal is a deterrent against attacks by foreign countries, where’s the proof that we need, say, 1000 nuclear warheads? Might not 500 suffice? 100? The administration wants to increase the national defense budget $54 billion? Where’s the proof that $54 billion is the right number? That $20 billion wouldn’t do the trick? That any increase at all can be justified? That this year’s national defense budget of $587.2 billion isn’t actually $54 billion MORE than we need to spend? For that matter, where’s the proof that the wall the president wants to build will prevent people from crossing from Mexico into the U.S.? And to take it one step further, where’s the proof that there’s been any increase in border crossings in, say, the past five years?
You get the point: that the new administration is selectively applying a standard demanding proof for spending it doesn’t like while exempting spending it does want to undertake from meeting a similar standard.
But back to feeding poor people, starting with the elderly poor people served by Meals on Wheels.
As reported by the Washington Post,
Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit group that receives funding from the federal government, state and local governments and private donors. “We serve more than 2.4 million seniors from 60 to 100+ years old each year,” the organization writes. “They are primarily older than 60 and because of physical limitations or financial reasons, have difficulty shopping for or preparing meals for themselves.”
If that doesn’t clear the bar for “results,” as Mulvaney put it, there’s also been a fair amount of peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of the program.
A 2013 review of studies, for instance, found that home-delivered meal programs for seniors “significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants. Other beneficial outcomes include increased socialization opportunities, improvement in dietary adherence, and higher quality of life.”
Not only that, the programs offer good bang-for-your-buck: “These programs are also aligned with the federal cost-containment policy to rebalance long-term care away from nursing homes to home- and community-based services by helping older adults maintain independence and remain in their homes and communities as their health and functioning decline.”
In other words, the programs help seniors stay at home and out of costly nursing facilities. If you’re interested in keeping a lid on health-care costs, the importance of this finding can’t be overstated.
“The average cost of a one-month nursing home stay is equivalent to providing home-delivered meals five days a week for approximately seven years,” one of the studies in the analysis found. How’s that for “results”?
And there’s more.
Also on the cost-containment front, a 2013 study by researchers at Brown University found that in most states, increasing Meals on Wheels enrollment would result in a net savings from decreased Medicaid costs for nursing home care.
More recently, those same researchers conducted a random controlled trial of Meals on Wheels efficacy. The study, which was funded by AARP, enrolled hundreds of seniors on food waiting lists across the United States. Some received daily meal deliveries, others got weekly bulk frozen food deliveries, and some simply remained on waiting lists.
“What we found is that there were statistically significant differences in health benefits among the three groups,” lead researcher Kali Thomas said, “with the highest gains recognized among participants living alone who had face-to-face contact via daily deliveries.”
Those receiving daily meals also experienced fewer falls and hospitalizations, the study found.
Sounds like results to The Curmudgeon.
But hungry seniors weren’t Mulvaney’s only target; he had a few choice words for hungry kids who are fed at school, too, as reported by UPI:
“They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? I mean, that’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school,” Mulvaney said. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school… And we can’t prove that that’s happening.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) suggests otherwise:
- Student participation in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) School Breakfast Program (SBP) is associated with increased academic grades and standardized test scores, reduced absenteeism, and improved cognitive performance (e.g., memory).
- Skipping breakfast is associated with decreased cognitive performance (e.g., alertness, attention, memory, processing of complex visual display, problem solving) among students.
- Lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students.
- Deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc, and calcium) are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students.
- Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students.
And the National Education Association offers this:
- Missing meals and experiencing hunger impair children’s development and achievement. Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry document the negative effects of hunger on children’s academic performance and behavior in school. Hungry children have lower math scores. They are also are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely.
- Eating breakfast at school helps children perform better. Studies published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that academic achievement among students who eat school breakfasts tends to rise, especially in math.
- Students who eat breakfast at school have better attendance records and exhibit fewer behavior problems. In studies of school breakfast programs in Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, and Rhode Island, scientists have found that students who eat breakfast at school have better attendance records, are less likely to be tardy, and exhibit fewer behavioral and psychological problems. Schools report that offering all students free breakfast improves behavior and increases attentiveness.
And there’s this from Time magazine.
“Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report on health and academic achievement, which also noted that inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients has been associated with similar results.
According to the American Psychological Association, hungry children are ” significantly more likely to receive special education services, to have repeated a grade in school and to have received mental health counseling than at-risk-for-hunger or not-hungry children.” The same study also found that hungry children were more likely than their not-hungry peers to have behavioral problems, including fighting or not listening.
The Trump administration is in charge now, and it has the right to propose cutting any government programs it wants to propose cutting. But when it makes such proposals, it shouldn’t trot out Mick Mulvaney to lie about why it wants to cut programs. It should just tell the truth.
And in this case, the truth is that this administration has no interest in feeding hungry people.
Considering all of the blunt talk coming out of the White House these days, why won’t they just show the courage of their convictions and say so?