Brown bill to expand ‘Meals on Wheels’ program becomes law

Funding must match policy goal, says Tri-Cities lawmaker

For homebound Washingtonians who are 60 or older, and unable to cook for themselves, a hot prepared meal can seem more like a rare luxury instead of a common occurrence.

Thanks to a bill sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown that was recently signed by the governor, more seniors will get a hot meal as part of the state Meals on Wheels program. The law created by Senate Bill 5736, which goes into effect July 23, requires the state Department of Social and Health Services to develop a program to expand nutrition services for the elderly, with up to 25 percent of the expansion dedicated to home delivery of meals to areas not presently served.

“An alarmingly high number of our neighbors face anxiety over not knowing when and from where their next meal will come,” explained Brown, R-Kennewick. “Along with children, our elderly community is the most affected by hunger and lack of access to nutritious meals.

“This new law will seek to address this problem by making more home-delivered meal services available to more people and in more areas of the state. It’s not nearly enough to meet the need, but it’s a start.”

Brown sponsored the bill after seeing firsthand the impact the Meals on Wheels program can have.

“While I was out helping deliver meals, I learned that these deliveries are often the only contact some of our seniors receive,” said Brown. “It’s an opportunity for someone to see if our elderly have the food and safe living conditions they need.

“Because of these visits, lives have been saved.”

The home-delivered meals program in Washington serves approximately 12,000 clients every two years at a cost of $6 million. Federal funds from the Older Americans Act, passed by Congress in 1965, cover roughly 95 percent of the cost for the program, with the remainder covered by state funding.

Under Brown’s bipartisan measure, DSHS must establish criteria for awarding competitive grants that include expanding services for low-income homebound seniors into areas with the greatest need, and areas where older adults have limited access to community-support services and facilities. The bill also directs DSHS to consider geographical diversity between rural and urban areas when distributing grants.

The extent of the expansion will depend on budget appropriations.

“I’m pleased that my bill passed with nearly unanimous support, but the goal of expanding the Meals on Wheels program must be met with similar support in the budget if it is to have the benefit we all hope to see,” said Brown, who serves as vice chair of the Senate’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

“As we continue to work on a final budget agreement, we must remember that protecting our most vulnerable populations – especially our seniors – must be a top priority.”