You could feed 5,967 homebound seniors for a year on what Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips cost so far

A Meals on Wheels recipient in Ohio.
A Meals on Wheels recipient in Ohio.
Image: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
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Michael Mulvaney, the US’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget, presented a stark argument for the slashing of programs that feed poor elderly and students in President Donald J. Trump’s new budget on March 16—they’re being cut because feeding poor people doesn’t yield concrete results.

Meals on Wheels “sounds good,” he said during a press conference at the White House, but the administration is not going to spend money “on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.” On after-school programs that provide meals, he said “They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school.  Guess what?  There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that.”

Research refutes this argument: Because they keep seniors out of nursing homes, Meals on Wheels helps cut states’ Medicaid costs, a 2013 study shows, while several studies show after school programs improve grades.

Part of Mulvaney’s rationale was that it is impossible for the administration to ask taxpayers like the “steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit” to pay for programs that don’t benefit them. The budget ramps up military spending at while cutting funding for the arts, foreign aid, lower income citizens, the environment, and science.

Meals on Wheels feeds a homebound senior citizen 250 days a year for $2,765, and currently feeds about 2.4 million seniors nationwide. The program helps elderly people who may not be able to shop or cook on their own by bringing them hot meals and providing them some human companionship.

After school snack programs are aimed at kids that don’t get enough to eat at home, and the USDA reimburses schools $0.80 per poor student, or $144 per 180-day school year.

Taxpayers are already footing a high profile bill that they see no benefit from. The cost to taxpayers of one of President Trump’s weekends to his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, has been estimated at $3.3 million, based in part on a weekend President Barack Obama took to South Florida when he was president. (The cost of flying Air Force One and security make up most of that). Including this coming weekend, Trump will have taken five trips to Mar-a-Lago since becoming president, for a grand total of about $16.5 million.

Meals on Wheels could feed 5,967 seniors for a year for that amount. After school programs could feed 114,583 poor children for a year for the same amount.

It’s a somewhat arbitrary measure, to be sure, but it highlights the jarring disconnect between a budget that cuts programs for poor people and research while the president takes trips to his warm weather home.

Mulvaney was careful to point out that the OMB had taken great pains to create the budget that Trump wanted. The agency crafted the budget by going “back to the President’s speeches, the interviews he gave and just talking to him,” and “tried to identify his priorities.”

Here are his full comments on Meals on Wheels and after-school programs.

     Q    Housing and Urban Development and the Community Development Block Grants aren’t exclusively about housing.  They support a variety of different programs, including, in part, Meals on Wheels, that affects a lot of Americans.  In Austin, Texas, today, one organization there that delivers those meals to thousands of elderly says that those citizens will no longer be able to be provided those meals.  So what do you say to those Americans who are ultimately losing out?  Not on housing, but on other things that are taken out of that budget?

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  As you know, or I think you know that Meals on Wheels is not a federal program.  It’s part of that community — the CDBG — the block grants that we give to the states.  And then many states make the decision to use that money on Meals on Wheels.

     Here’s what I can tell you about CDBGs because that’s what we fund — right? — is that we spend $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s.  The CDBGs have been identified as programs since I believe the first — actually, the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results.  We can’t do that anymore.  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 to.  But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work — I can’t defend that anymore.  We cannot defend that anymore.  We’re $20 trillion in debt.

     We’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.

     Q    So you’re talking about programs that do work or don’t work.  There’s a program called the SHINE, and it’s in Pennsylvania — rural counties of Pennsylvania that provides after-school educational programs for individuals in those areas, which so happens to be the state that helped propel President Trump to the White House.  I’m curious to what you say to those Americans in the community where they tell me today that 800 individuals will no longer — children, who need it most — will no longer be provided, in those most-needed communities, that educational care they need.

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  I’m not familiar — you all are at an advantage over me because I’d have to memorize all 4,000 line items.  So let’s talk about after-school programs, generally.  They’re supposed to be educational programs, right?  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.  Guess what?  There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that.  There’s no demonstrable evidence of actually helping results, helping kids do better in school, which is what — when we took your money from you to say, look, we’re going to go spend it on an after-school program.  The way we justified it was these programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs.  And we can’t.

     Q    To be clear, we’re saying that —

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  — prove that that’s happening.

     Q    To be clear, we’re saying — the administration, with this budget, is saying that no after-school programs out there are doing their job in helping educate these children?

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  No, but I — and again, now you’re asking me a question I don’t know the answer to, but I don’t believe we cut all the funding for those types of things.

     Q    Just to follow up on that, you were talking about the steelworker in Ohio and the coalminer in Pennsylvania and so on. But those workers may have an elderly mother who depends on the Meals on Wheels program, who may have kids in Head Start.  And yesterday or the day before, you described this as a hard-power budget, but is it also a hard-hearted measure?

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  No, I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do to actually be —

     Q    Cut programs that help the elderly and kids?

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right?  You’re focusing on recipients of the money.  We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place.  And I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.  A single mom of two in Detroit, okay — “give us your money” — we’re not going to do that anymore unless we can guarantee —

     Q    And that single mom has two kids — what if that single mom has two kids in Head Start?

     DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  Let me finish.  Unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.  And I think that is about as compassionate as you can get.