By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
While President Donald Trump’s administration is attacking the value of federally funded community programs, the proof is right here in Wood County.
Local officials suggested the administration look at the seniors kept in their homes by the Meals on Wheels program, the children nourished through the WIC program, and the small villages improved through the CDBG program.
When Trump’s budget proposal was unveiled Thursday, the winners were the military and border control. The losers were the arts, the environment, the poor, the elderly and the very young. And the cuts weren’t made with a scalpel, but with a guillotine.
Local officials who normally make tempered responses to hot button political issues could no longer bite their tongues.
When Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director, said the Meals on Wheels cuts were justified because the program was “just not showing any results,” the comments pushed Denise Niese past her normally polite poise.
“I heard that last night and I was appalled,” said Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging. The local Meals on Wheels program is not as dependent as some areas on the federal funding, but it is vital to local residents, serving 132,000 meals last year.
Sometimes it’s difficult to collect hard data on social services, but Niese said the proof is in the pudding – and all the other menu items.
“We do know that people with home-delivered meals can maintain themselves in their homes at a much lower cost than going into long-term care,” she said.
Considering the fact that the local Meals on Wheels cost an average of $4.92 per meal to produce and deliver, that is a real bargain compared to a senior citizen moving to a nursing home facility.
“It is cost effective,” Niese said. “There are people who have been able to stay in their homes for five, 10 or 15 years,” thanks to the home-delivered meals.
Wood County Health Commissioner Ben Batey is also worried about the cuts coming from Washington.
“Any time we’re talking about reducing social services for people, that’s going to be troubling,” he said.
“We all want a strong military,” Batey said, referring one of the winners in Trump’s budget. “But when it’s at the cost of a lot of our programs that help people, it’s concerning.”
On the chopping block in the budget proposal is the WIC nutrition program, which helps provide nutritious food for pregnant women, infants and young children.
“If we’re not taking into account how we take care of kids, that’s disturbing,” Batey said.
Batey is unsure how the funding will look once it gets through the federal process, then goes through the state budget process. He worries that cuts will “drastically affect a program at our level.”
Dave Steiner, director of the Wood County Planning Commission, is concerned about the Community Development Block Grants, which appear to be a front row target in the budget cuts.
“Given the way the winds are blowing in Washington, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on the chopping block,” Steiner said.
Mulvaney claimed the grants to local communities “don’t do any good.” Steiner has seen otherwise, over and over and over.
In Wood County, the CDBGs have been used by small communities to put in sewer projects and waterlines, to fix storm sewers, and to make public buildings and sidewalks ADA accessible. Without those grants, many little towns could never raise enough funding to complete such projects, Steiner said.
“It would have quite a negative impact” if the funds were slashed, he said. “Especially for little communities.”
The funding is also used for the CHIP housing improvement program, which helps low income families with emergency repairs like replacing a broken furnace or fixing holes in a roof.
“A lot of elderly use that program,” Steiner said. “All that could be wiped off the plate.”
The Home Energy Assistance Program is also at risk, despite the fact that in 2015 the program helped 667 Wood County households heat their homes. In many cases, those families were facing possible utility shut-offs.
Mulvaney also targeted Community Learning Centers that provide before and after school programming, plus summer programs. He said the programs had failed to help children in schools.
That statement was also debunked locally.
Wood County Educational Service Center Superintendent Kyle Kanuckel said the local Community Learning Centers have been providing services for kids for 17 years. This year, 1,500 children are being served.
“We have the data that shows that’s not true,” Kanuckel said of the criticism from the Trump administration. “It’s a little disappointing that no one has even asked us.”
The centers provide learning programs, tutoring, exercise programs and nutritious meals – year round.
“It’s a complete program,” Kanuckel said. “It’s extremely valuable.”
Kanuckel realizes this is early in the budget process, and numbers will be juggled before any cuts are final.
“We don’t want to panic too much,” he said. “But it’s going to impact our community significantly.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, was contacted about the proposed budget cuts and responded with the following emailed statement. “It’s important to remember that this proposal is just the beginning – not the end – of the federal budgetary process. As the House prepares its budget, the authorizing and appropriations committees will thoroughly review the fiscal priorities for our nation.”