Briefing journalists today, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney cited the Meals on Wheels program as an example of spending money on something that “sounds great” but is “not showing any results.” The basic result of delivering meals to home-bound seniors is, of course, food being consumed. But as it happens, Mulvaney is mistaken, and the program shows a range of broader results than that.
There is even a convenient review study of published studies, which finds “home-delivered meal programs to significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants.” A later study conducted by the Brown School of Public Health with AARP Foundation funding finds substantial gains in mental health as well.
As Quentin Fottrell of MarketWatch notes, a further benefit of these programs is that by allowing seniors to continue living independently in their own homes, they tend to reduce the need for nursing home care, which is very expensive.
Now of course if you go line item by line item through the federal budget, you are, in fact, going to find plenty of programs that don’t score amazingly highly on a benefit-cost basis. It’s even possible that Meals on Wheels fits those criteria and the money would be better spent on something else. But the striking thing about the Trump budget blueprint is that essentially all of the money is simply being plowed into the already enormous budget of the Pentagon in the context of an overall administration stance that’s seeking deep cuts in taxes on high-income households.