In her wheelchair, Lena J. can’t navigate around her kitchen enough to cook.
Even if she could, she rarely can find anyone to take her to the store to buy groceries.
That’s why the 81-year-old woman depends on food brought to her by volunteers with Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County.
“I really appreciate it,” she said. “It’s really important that I get a meal that’s nutritious, you know, good diet.”
Lena is among the more than 5,000 Tarrant County residents who receive these meals nearly every day.
Many are worried about an early outline of President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget that shows grants and other funding used to aid programs such as Meals on Wheels could be cut.
“I think the president needs to step up to the plate and help the seniors,” Lena, who didn’t vote last year, said recently when meals were delivered to her Fort Worth home.
Without the meals, she said, many seniors “wouldn’t have any food.”
Officials say they fear Meals on Wheels, locally and across the country, could suffer as Congress and the White House hammer their way through a new federal budget.
Since Trump’s initial budget plan was released last week, there has been an eruption of national media coverage suggesting the administration is directly targeting Meals on Wheels. In fact, there is no direct mention of cuts to Meals on Wheels or nutrition programs for the elderly at all in the budget.
But proponents of those programs are gravely concerned because they believe it’s clear the Trump administration does want to cut or eliminate some programs — such as the Community Services Block Grants and Community Development Block Grants — that help fund thousands of nutrition programs across the country.
Not known yet is whether other funds that support Meals on Wheels, such as the Older Americans Act, might sustain cuts as Congress takes the president’s proposal and drafts the budget.
926,416 The number of meals delivered to elderly and disabled people in Tarrant County last year
“We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump, who stressed his commitment to protecting the country, wrote in the proposed budget.
“We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war, and when called upon to fight, do only one thing: Win,” he wrote. “Many other Government agencies and departments will also experience cuts. These cuts are sensible and rational.”
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, is among those vowing to fight cuts to the Meals on Wheels program.
“We will fight this all the way until the end,” he said. “This is not the American way. This is the draconian way, the mean-spirited way. We shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing in Congress, trying to balance the budget on the back of needy senior citizens. It’s not a good way to govern.”
Carla Jutson is among those who are worried.
If the proposed cuts become reality, they could lead to the elimination of more than 20 percent of the funding the local program received last year, said Jutson, president and CEO of the Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County.
If that happens, “we will not have money to fund meals,” she said. “We would turn to the community, obviously, and ask for donations. But would we get enough?
“That’s the huge question.”
Nearly 1 million meals
Last year, 926,416 meals were delivered locally to the elderly and disabled, a Meals on Wheels Inc. of Tarrant County annual fiscal year report shows.
The program provides meals to home-bound people who live alone or are unable to make meals for themselves. Around 5,800 volunteers donated more than 250,000 hours of time last year alone to prepare, organize or take meals to those who need them.
The average age of those receiving meals is 75. The youngest client last year was 20, and the oldest was 109.
But Jutson said she worries that more than $1.3 million in federal funds that support this program in Tarrant County could be at risk if the president’s “skinny” budget proposal becomes reality. That, she said, would be a big financial blow to the program.
She encourages supporters to contact their members of Congress to stress the importance of funding for Meals on Wheels, volunteer their time to deliver meals — or donate money directly to the local program.
“For every $6, someone will be fed,” she said. “That means for that amount, a volunteer will go to a house and hand someone a meal.
“We need your help.”
The program is about more than just providing hot meals.
It also ensures that someone is checking in on elderly and disabled people nearly every day and coordinating with other volunteer groups to meet those people’s needs for items ranging from wheelchair ramps to air conditioning or heating.
“It makes sense to provide meals and other support services to keep people healthy in their own homes,” Jutson said.
Many say the value of the program is broad.
“It’s amazing what this service means to senior citizens,” said Veasey, who has delivered meals. “It’s an opportunity for them to talk with somebody and have someone check on them. It means so much to them.”
Cuts to this program, he said, would be “absolutely devastating to seniors.”
“The only thing we’ve heard since Trump has become president is how they are going to slash all these programs,” Veasey said. “We’ve heard nothing about how this is going to make America a better place and empower people in need.
“I know a lot of these seniors right now are absolutely scared,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, said he understands the need for Meals on Wheels and “will continue to advocate on its behalf.”
“They provide an invaluable service in the delivery of meals, social contact, and safety checks to our most vulnerable citizens,” said Barton, whose district includes part of Arlington.
In fact, Barton, a longtime advocate for the program, plans to file a measure to let volunteers who use their own vehicles to deliver these meals deduct the full standard business rate, which is now 53.5 cents a mile, for their travel.
Currently, the law only lets volunteers claim 14 cents a mile for charitable food delivery. Barton filed a similar bill last year that did not pass.
Last year, nearly 6,000 volunteers in Tarrant County drove more than 1.1 million miles delivering meals
“I am introducing this bill to benefit charitable volunteers, and to let them know their work for our community is not unseen,” said Barton, who is looking for bipartisan co-sponsors in each chamber to help carry this bill.
Last year, nearly 6,000 volunteers in Tarrant County drove more than 1.1 million miles delivering meals, according to the program’s 2016 report.
‘Pray for our country’
Rick Tice, a 56-year-old Keller man, is among the local volunteers who deliver these meals.
He hasn’t really focused on the proposed federal cuts much yet, but said how he can see that “it’s easy to say we can cut these programs, looking at them on paper.”
In reality, though, he said he’s never delivered a meal to someone who didn’t need it. And overall, he said, Meals on Wheels appears to be a “pretty efficient program.”
He recently delivered meals to both Lena J. and Shirley E., an 82-year-old Fort Worth woman. Shirley now receives meals five times a week, up from twice a week, since she took a hard fall which limited her mobility.
Shirley said she didn’t vote for Trump but has faith the government won’t really cut funding for Meals on Wheels and other crucial programs.
“I think taking care of older people is something they’ll look into,” she said.
Jutson hopes she’s right.
She stresses that — at least for now — nothing has changed and meals are being delivered as usual.
But in an open letter posted online, Jutson asks supporters “to pray for our country, and that this issue will be resolved so that our senior citizens will not have to worry about where their next meal will come from.
“Pray that our leaders will recognize the importance of the senior nutrition programs all across America.”
Meals on Wheels Inc. of Tarrant County
Address: 5740 Airport Freeway, Fort Worth, Texas, 76117-6005