Let’s start with a basic fact. Contrary to news reports last week, President Trump is not eliminating funding for Meals on Wheels. He’s not even cutting it.
How do we know this? Meals on Wheels says so. A statement issued by Meals on Wheels America on Thursday notes that 35% of the revenues at the 5,000 or so local Meals on Wheels programs come via the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program.
Trump’s budget outline says nothing about this program whatsoever.
What Trump’s budget does propose is cutting is the corruption-prone Community Development Block Grant program, run out of Housing and Urban Development. Some state and local governments use some of that grant money, at their own discretion, to “augment funding for Meals on Wheels,” according to the statement.
Nevertheless, when the New York Times reported on Trump’s budget last Wednesday, they dispensed with such details, and simply said that CDBG “funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”
This misleading shorthand quickly turned into “Trump wants to kill Meals on Wheels.”
Time magazine, for example, blared that Trump’s budget “would kill a program that feeds 2.4 million senior citizens.” The Hill said it “eliminates funds for Meals on Wheels.” A local Dallas station reported that the program would lose “all of its federal funding.” Others claimed — falsely — that Trump’s budget director said Meals on Wheels wasn’t worth funding because it didn’t get results.
The New York Times itself fanned the flames of its own misleading coverage with follow-up stories about how “GOP, Dem Lawmakers Decry Trump’s Cuts To Meals On Wheels” and how the program “gets results.”
When the actual facts started to emerge over the weekend, the fake story had already taken hold in the popular press and on social media.
So what’s really going on?
As Meals on Wheels America explained, some Community Development Block Grant money does end up going to some of the local Meals on Wheels programs.
But it’s a tiny amount. HUD’s own website shows that just 1% of CDBG grant money goes to the broad category of “senior services.” And 0.17% goes to “food banks.”
We looked at several local Meals on Wheels programs and found that block grant money was often a pittance, and as often as not the programs got no CDBG money.
Last year, for example, the Meals on Wheels program in Rockland County, N.Y., received a total of $25,000 from CDBG — less than 1% of its budget.
Kennewick, Wash., directed $18,500 in grant money to Senior Life Resources’ Meals on Wheels program in 2015, a year in which the charity got $13.3 million in total government grants.
Fairfield, Calif., gave its local Meals on Wheels $10,539 of CDBG money in 2015, after giving it $0 for the previous four years.
Meals on Wheels of Trenton, N.J., asked for $50,000 in community grant money last year, and got nothing. It received no grant money the year before, either.
All of this information was easily available to anyone reporting on this story, or anyone commenting on it, which would have prevented the false claims about the Meals on Wheels program from spreading in the first place. But why bother reporting facts when you can make up a story that will drive Trump’s approval ratings even lower?
Then for dessert, Ben Shapiro:
Last week, we heard wailing and gnashing of teeth on the left thanks to President Trump’s proposed budget slashing funding for the Community Development Block Grant, which costs taxpayers $3 billion per year. That’s because some of the money from the CDBG goes to Meals on Wheels – although the vast majority of the Meals on Wheels budget comes from elsewhere.
The left reacted to the news by calling Americans stingy and nasty. If the government wouldn’t cover the cost for Meals on Wheels, the theory went, then Meals on Wheels would die a horrible death, along with the 2.4 million seniors to which it provided necessary nutrition.
Except that’s not what happened.
Meals on Wheels received 50 times the typical amount of daily donations on Thursday after the White House proposed cuts to some of the program’s sources of funding, a spokesperson for the group said. Volunteer sign-ups also jumped, increasing by 500%, according to Jenny Bertolette, a spokeswoman for Meals on Wheels America.
Naturally, that hasn’t stopped the folks at Meals on Wheels from calling for more federal funding. They say that volunteers should call up the government and decry the budget cuts. But Americans are more than willing to fill the gap, if government is left out of it.
And this is the major disconnect between right and left: the left believes that every act of kindness is a collective action problem, that vicious individualists will refuse to help their fellow man. The right believes that every government intrusion lessens the freedom for individual agency, including charity. Charitable action and statistics prove that the right is correct on this score: when people assume the government will do something, they stop giving. When they know somebody is in trouble, they’re moved to action.
CNN treats this story as a sort of exercise in shaming the Trump administration. In truth, it should shame the left to recognize that the same Americans they slander as too cold-hearted to help others are more than willing to step up when moral duty calls.