SOMERSWORTH — Cuts in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget could have a serious impact at the local level.
U.S. Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, visited the Strafford Nutrition and Meals on Wheels program in Somersworth Monday for a roundtable discussion with program recipients, volunteers and staff, to hear their concerns and to acknowledge the impact of the program.
According to Strafford Nutrition and Meals on Wheels Executive Director Jaymie Chagnon, they help 1,000 seniors, disabled adults, and veterans remain independently in their homes every day.
The president’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of Community Development Block Grants, which fund about 3 percent of the national Meals on Wheels program, but locally the percentage is likely much higher.
Chagnon said 80 percent of their revenue comes from state contracts and which are in large part funded by federal grants.
“For an agency likes ours it would be tremendous,” Chagnon said. “Even at 3 percent that would mean 2,500 meals that I would have to cut from people here who are already not getting as much as they need.”
Chagnon said when she heard news reports that White House officials claimed the program had no impact, she thought they were mistaken. She said they are not just addressing the physical health needs, but the mental health needs of the people they serve.
Meals on Wheels also helps lower healthcare costs by providing that daily check on seniors and others and alerting a family member before the issue becomes severe, Chagnon said.
Shea-Porter said the country has a social and moral contract with the people who have worked hard all their lives but now have been injured or are in need.
“We want everybody to come together, regardless of political party, age or income to say these are the programs that show our best face and show how we take care of each other,” Shea-Porter said. “Where they have gone for the cuts is deeply concerning.”
Staff and volunteers talked about the importance of visiting every day and how that is a comfort to the families who know that at least once a day someone is there.
Debi Duke said when she makes meal deliveries she tries to make it more like a social visit.
“The seniors in our area are very proud, they worked hard,” Duke said. “If it is more social, they don’t feel like they are poor. They feel like they are part of the community.”
Duke said they will even do small favors, such as changing the clocks so the senior doesn’t have to climb up on a chair.
Eva Call said she is 75 and her income is just $439 a month, leaving her just $2 a day to buy food. She is being treated for two cancers and her doctor told her to contact Meals on Wheels because her poor nutrition was causing serious health issues.
She said she has no family and no children, so the daily visit from Duke means a lot to her.
“Sometimes I don’t go out for a week at a time, but she is there every day,” Call said. “Just knowing she is coming is important to me.”
Chagnon also pointed out that at the national level there is support for the program from donations; in Strafford County the income levels don’t support that.
“We get some money from the county and will be reaching out to the communities to ask for support,” Chagnon said. “People can donate if they want to and we can always use more volunteers.”
Shea-Porter said Trump’s budget calls for an almost 18 percent cut in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, and once its budget is made, Meals on Wheels could be affected.
Shea-Porter said Trump’s budget is being called the “skinny budget” because it is short on details, making it hard to know what the impact will be, but in the meantime, people need to raise their voices in support of these services.
“These stories here are playing out across the country,” Shea-Porter said. “I will take what I have heard here and share it with my colleagues, some Republicans.”