Summit County Meals on Wheels program aims to work around potential budget cuts
March 30, 2017
Driving toward Dillon on Swan Mountain Road, Meals on Wheels volunteer Terry Hall said that it's not unusual for him to drive 44 miles to make his rounds.
Hall has been volunteering with the Frisco-based Meals on Wheels program for about a year. Hall's route on Thursday brought him through Dillon and Silverthorne, and took a little over an hour to deliver meals to four clients. Hall knows his routes well, knowing which of the clients have cats that can't be let out of the house, or which ones prefer to have their meals left in a cooler on the front porch.
"You just go with what the people want to do," he said. "Some people are interested in talking, some people aren't."
Meals on Wheels is a national program delivering food to seniors and homebound adults. Summit County's local branch is a small faction of Meals on Wheels America, which represents 5,000 home delivery programs across the nation.
The group's value recently came under fire in early March when Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, answered questions about Meals on Wheels after outlining President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2018.
The budget had a proposed $6.2 billion cut from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly half of which would come from the Community Development Block Program. The grant program helps to provide some funding for Meals on Wheels.
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"We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great — again, that's a state decision to fund that particular portion," Mulvaney said.
Lorie Williams, the manager of the Summit County Community and Senior Care Center, where the local program is based, said that the cuts did not come as a shock, and that their granters have told them not to be concerned yet, since the budget has not been approved. She added that the community and senior center works to diversify its funding between government grants and local donations just to make sure Meals on Wheels won't stop due to federal cuts.
"This is not the first time that the Community Services Block Grant has been on the chopping block," she said. "Every new president we get, it seems like this comes up every time."
The Summit branch of Meals on Wheels gets $6,000 annually from the national program. Williams said that the county also receives an additional $6,500 from the Community Services Block Program. The Community and Senior Center also partners with Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, which don't have anyone to administer their local Meals on Wheels program. They get between $14-15,000 for the two counties to split to run the program. Williams said that Meals on Wheels serves between six and 22 clients with five meals a week. Nearly 75 percent of the users are people who are in the program long-term. In 2016, there were more than 1,800 meals distributed.
Trump's proposed budget cuts could also impact the U.S. Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. Locally, the Colorado Enterprise Fund uses grants from the program to help small businesses that may not be able to get bank loans. Ceyl Prinster, the CEO and president of the Colorado Enterprise Fund, said that the enterprise fund uses federal money as leverage to get more funds from private investors. Without federal funding, the program is not as effective. She added that the small businesses they fund also have an impact on local job creation.
"It's like a contraction, almost like the air gets let out of the balloon and everything else follows, " Prinster said.
The Colorado Enterprise Fund has helped to finance close to 2,000 small businesses across the state, including local stores in Summit such as CocoRidge, which started in Breckenridge and now has locations throughout Colorado.
The enterprise fund also created the Healthy Foods Loan program, which supports businesses providing fresh, nutritious and affordable food, helping to alleviate food deserts. The program has given $1.3 million to 32 food-related businesses.
Meals on Wheels partners well with other programs, such as Care Navigators, which helps keeps up with the needs of clients, and includes things like snow shoveling. It's also an opportunity for clients to socialize. Rob Rumill, the senior services program manager at the community center, said that the Meals on Wheels program is important because it helps people to continue living independently in their homes. The center helps to provide many services to the senior community in Summit since the county does not have a facility for people to live in full-time.
In his years working with nonprofits, Rumrill said there was no question that Meals on Wheels was one of the most successful programs out there.
"We're literally able to bring food to people and keep them in their homes as long as possible," Rumrill said. "The program is a lot bigger than dropping off a meal."
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