WASHINGTON — Meals on Wheels, the popular nationwide program that provides hot meals to needy seniors, has become a rallying point for critics of President Trump's proposed budget, which slashes spending on social initiatives to beef up military spending.
But on Sunday, the Trump administration answered an emphatic "no" to the question of whether the budget would gut Meals on Wheels.
Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director, said that the funding source the administration seeks to eliminate — the Department of Housing and Urban Development's community development block grants — accounts for just 3 percent of Meals on Wheels' overall funding.
"Some of the stories are just either grossly wrong or nearly grossly wrong, all the stories about how we cut Meals on Wheels," Mulvaney said on NBC's Meet the Press.
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 19, 2017
OMB spokesman John Czwartacki said later Sunday that Mulvaney meant to say that Meals on Wheels' national headquarters gets 3 percent of its funding from the government and that he was not referring to the amount of funding that comes from community development block grants. It is unclear what percentage of the program's funding comes from HUD, but it is a relatively small amount.
Meals on Wheels is not a federal program, nor do its local groups directly receive federal funding. Rather, the groups run on a mix of local, state and federal money, as well as private donations and the work contributions of volunteers, which vary depending on the funding structure of each affiliate.
Most federal money that ends up supporting Meals on Wheels comes from a separate program run by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Trump administration has proposed cutting the overall HHS budget by 17.9 percent, but has not yet detailed where those cuts would fall and whether they would impact the Administration for Community Living, which funds nutrition programs for the elderly, as the Washington Post's Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler explained. A top official at Meals on Wheels told Kessler that the organization anticipates the cuts will impact its funding.
Democrats sought Sunday to shame the Trump administration for a budget that takes away resources for programs like Meals on Wheels. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said the Trump budget would "take money from Meals on Wheels and give it to the Defense Department."
"We take an oath to protect and defend our country, but our strength is measured in more ways than just taking money for the health, education and well-being of the American people, which is a source of our strength," Pelosi said on CBS' Face the Nation. "So compassionate acts of mercy? I don't know what faith that is."
Mulvaney defended the administration's budget from criticism that its cuts to social programs would be painful for millions of working-class voters in rural states like West Virginia, where voters went heavily for Trump in last fall's election.
"The president knows who his voters are," Mulvaney said, arguing that the budget demonstrates "compassion."
Noting that Trump supporters are sensitive to how their tax dollars are spent, he added, "Could I, as a budget director, look at the coal miner in West Virginia and say, 'I want you, please, to give some of your money to the federal government so that I can give it to the National Endowment for the Arts?' And I just think we finally got to the point in the administration where we couldn't do that."