NH Meals on Wheels leader not yet panicking over proposed budget; Rep. Shea-Porter 'deeply concerned'
SOMERSWORTH — One local director of the Meals on Wheels program said while President Donald Trump's budget would "cripple" the program in Strafford County, it's not yet time to panic about cuts proposed in it.
"If the budget went (forward) as planned, yes, I would be concerned, but I think it's early in the process," said Jaymie Chagnon, Executive Director of Strafford Nutrition & Meals on Wheels. "I wouldn't panic yet. We need to see how this plays out."
At a community roundtable in Somersworth on Monday, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter expressed the opposite opinion, saying constituents have "reason for deep concern" now.
"I think there's real reason for concern and it's because of what Steve Bannon said. He is President Trump's adviser ... his vision has been to pull apart the 'administrative state,' which is the government," Shea-Porter said, referencing comments Bannon made last month.
Monday's roundtable presented an opportunity for dozens of Strafford County residents to voice their concerns over the proposed budget, specifically on how it will impact the Meals on Wheels program in the Granite State.
Meals on Wheels is not a federal program, nor does it directly receive federal funding.
However, Chagnon explained in Strafford County, the program does rely on funds from two federal sources: the Older Americans Act and Community Development Block Grants. Money from these programs is filtered to the states and is divvied up to help fund state contracts for social programs.
The Older Americans Act is under the Department of Health and Human Services umbrella, while the block grants are part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the proposed budget, DHHS is facing a $12.6 billion cut next year, while HUD faces a $4.3 billion cut.
Chagnon said approximately 80 percent of the Strafford County's Meals on Wheels' total budget comes from the state contracts funded by those programs. That number also varies from county-to-county and state-to-state.
If the budget were to pass, Chagnon said it would likely be the end of the program, as community support and private donations wouldn't cover the difference.
Still, with 30 years of Meals on Wheels experience under her belt, she's confident the budget won't pass as-is, so long as citizens, like those who attended the roundtable, speak up.
"What they start out with and where they end up in the (budget) process can be relatively different," Chagnon said.
Chagnon and Shea-Porter agreed that'll only happen if citizens, like those who attended the roundtable, speak up.
"There's reason for deep concern right now and people, whether you're republican, democrat, independent, none of the above, need to be watching very closely to make sure that they like the direction it's going in," Shea-Porter said. "I suspect they don't."
She added the purpose of the roundtable was to let residents voice those opinions and to turn numbers and monetary values into people.
"These are real faces, and that's what we wanted to do," she said. "We wanted to show that the impact is going to be on real people and it's not just numbers out there."
This year, Chagnon estimates Meals on Wheels will distribute 106,000 meals throughout Strafford County.
While state contracts fund 82,000 of those meals, the remaining 24,000 come from additional funds raised, such as community sponsors or private donations.
Establishing ways to earn those additional funds will take time, Chagnon said.
"I'm hoping to build revenue and more support in this community for the long term, but right today, no, (the proposed budget cuts) would probably be the end of this program (in Strafford County)."