Government Shutdown Could Derail Meals on Wheels

With resources already stretched thin at local programs throughout the country, the ongoing federal shutdown exacerbates an already-dire situation for Meals on Wheels, say leaders of the program’s national association.

The clock is ticking for many government-funded nonprofits. Every day that the government shutdown continues, the harder the hit to their bottom lines.

One organization that’s taking a particularly rough punch is Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA), which represents 5,000 local programs throughout the country that deliver more than 1 million meals a day to homebound seniors. Those programs rely partly on federal funding to cover their expenses.

“You’ve got a compounding issue,” said Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of MOWAA. “The past several years, there have been funding declines from federal, state, and local sources, and at the same time, food and transportation costs have increased exponentially, and private donations have never rebounded from pre-recession levels. Government funding is not the lion’s share of their funds, but it’s significant enough.”

Before the shutdown, MOWAA was already struggling because of sequester cuts that went into effect earlier this year. Since then, 70 percent of MOWAA programs have had to add to their waiting lists or create one for the first time, and 70 percent have had to reduce the number of meals they serve, according to Hollander. One in six programs has shut its doors.

MOWAA surveyed members last week to get an update on their situation since the government closed last Tuesday; the results are expected to be released later this week. Generally speaking, Hollander suspects that two weeks is about as long as some programs will be able to go with the resources they have.

“It really depends on each program,” she said. “Every state is different, but beyond two weeks would really be a big strain on a number of programs. At that point what’s going to happen is we’re going to have more and more seniors who are going to be told, ‘I can’t provide you with a meal,’ and for many, Meals-on-Wheels is their lifeline.”

Aside from advocating for an end to the shutdown on the Hill, Hollander has been working to forge connections with corporations to help fill some of the empty coffers.

“We’re trying to raise money for our programs by developing corporate relationships where we can re-grant money to our programs to help carry them through some tough times,” she said. “I’m just trying to run cover for them, get them the resources that they need, and get the attention of the public. They’re trying to fulfill their mission, and their mission is to ensure that no senior goes hungry.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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