Brown secures funding for ‘Meals on Wheels’ program in state budget

2017-19 plan benefits students, vulnerable adults, children, taxpayers, employers

When in May, the governor signed Sen. Sharon Brown’s bill to expand the state Meals on Wheels program for more Washington seniors, the Tri-Cities lawmaker promised to continue her efforts to make sure that commitment was matched with dollars in the state operating budget.

Today, Brown fulfilled that promise, as the Legislature approved a 2017-19 state operating budget that provides $1.5 million in funding to expand the program to serve thousands of additional Washingtonians who are 60 or older, and unable to cook for themselves.

“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.

“The funds we secured in this budget will help 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 tremendous start that I am pleased I was able to help secure.”

The law created by Brown’s measure, 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.

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.

The $43.7 billion compromise budget received a strongly bipartisan 39-10 vote in the Senate and 70-23 vote in the House of Representatives. The new spending plan protects the state’s social-safety net and makes major investments in services for people with mental illness. It promotes improvements in the foster-care system and offers new support for seniors and those who care for them. There are gains in health care and public safety, and $50 million to extend state need grants for college-bound students.

Once the governor signs it, the plan will be set to take effect when the 2017-19 fiscal biennium begins tomorrow, officially ending concern that state services and programs could be interrupted.