Budget crisis threatens Meals on Wheels program

Budget crisis threatens Meals on Wheels program

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The budget crisis on Capitol Hill could take a bite out of Austin's Meals on Wheels and More program.

Monday through Friday, the Meals on Wheels and More loading zone can be a busy place as the noon hour approaches. Volunteers scurry back and forth loading up vehicles with hot meals. Leslie Robinson and Krystal Hopton made six stops Friday. Each visit they make is special and not just for those receiving the meals.

"I get so much more, just seeing their faces light up, when I walk into their room and just hear some of the tales of when they were younger, my age, it's a funny story one of the ladies she asked me if I was married and I told her no, and she said, honey you need to get married so you can have some fun and that was the highlight of my day its things like that major impacts me and makes me want to continue doing it," said Robinson.

There are currently about 3,000 clients who are signed up to get meals. With more than 70 on the waiting list – there's concern that number will increase because of the loss of a key ingredient--funding.

The pot of money available to cook the meals may start shrinking. The budget impasse that started earlier this year may eventually gobble up $180,000. That's enough to make 70,000 meals. Last year the organization prepared more than 850,000 meals.

"Yeah the last thing we want to do is cry wolf," said spokesperson Thad Rosenfeld.

That wolf may be taking shape considering all the political huffing and puffing on Capitol Hill.

"With the triple whammy of Sequestration, we've got the Government Shutdown, and the reduction in food stamps, things are not looking great for the people that we serve. They're already leading tenuous existences and this makes it only more difficult," said Rosenfeld.

Under a worst case scenario a proposed Agriculture Spending Bill, which has cleared the U.S. House, would make a $39 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as Food Stamps. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 3 million people nationwide could lose access to SNAP benefits. In Texas, several political health analysts predict that 171,000 Texans could lose all food benefits. The actual number is expected to be lower because the U.S. Senate passed a smaller cut. Both plans will now go into a Conference committee in order to reach a compromise.

Weathering this brewing federal budget storm may require more of an effort from the teams of volunteers. Keeping the meals on wheels rolling despite the added pressure brought on by the drive to reduce government spending.

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