Navy veteran Thomas Carlucci, 69, lives in a constant state of pain. It's so debilitating, he says, he has to spend most of his time in a motorized wheelchair.
"The more active I am, the worse the pain gets," he said. That's why, instead of standing up and cooking his own meals, going out to eat or shopping for groceries, he started using San Antonio's local Meals on Wheels program three years ago. Every weekday, he gets a visit from a volunteer and a fresh meal (informed by a dietician) delivered right to his door. Carlucci, who has no family in the area, said these visits — along with the food — are an incredibly meaningful part of his day.
That's why he is so upset the administration of President Donald Trump, one he helped elect into office, thinks it's a waste of money. Or, as Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney put it, things like Meals on Wheel are "just not showing any results." At least that was how Mulvaney explained the proposed deep cuts to federal grant money that's supported programs like Meals on Wheels for half a century.
Shortly after Mulvaney's Thursday press conference regarding these cuts
, journalists, economists, and the Meals on Wheels program itself responded with a slew of data explaining just how wrong Mulvaney is. Just consider that the 5,000 different Meals on Wheels programs across the country serve some 2.5 million seniors each year — and a fifth of them are military veterans.
In San Antonio, "Military City USA," a whole third of Meals on Wheels' clientele are veterans or veteran spouses. Many of them, like Carlucci, are disabled.
"I voted for Trump, and I do believe there is a lot of tax money that's wasted on programs," he told the Current.
"This isn't one of them." Among other things, Carlucci supports Trump's efforts to expand military funding, but what he doesn't understand is why the administration has to take from struggling people to pay for it — especially veterans.
"If they're going to take money away from people, don't take it away from the disabled and the elderly," he said.
If the budget floated by Mulvaney is approved, San Antonio's program could lose up to $900,000 — or 15 percent — of its total funding. These funds largely come from the Older Americans Act and Community Services Block Grants — two federal programs on Trump's chopping block.
"That's huge. That will hurt," said Vinsen Faris, director of Meals on Wheels San Antonio. He says the program, run through Christian Senior Services, won't be able to survive on just private philanthropy donations and state aid.
"We've been working for years trying to make sure Meals on Wheels doesn't get caught up in partisan politics," Faris said. "And yet here we are."
Faris, who called Mulvaney "badly mistaken," said his program does far more to help taxpayers than hurt them. Keeping seniors eating healthy meals in their own home saves the public from covering premature nursing home costs or unnecessary emergency visits, he said. Plus, Faris added, the majority of nursing home beds in Texas are funded by Medicare dollars.
"We are part of the solution, not part of the problem," Faris said.
Volunteers work as messengers in the program, keeping social workers, doctors, and family members updated on a clients' general wellbeing. Their job, he said, is to deliver three things: "a smile, a wellness check and a nutritious meal." In San Antonio, many volunteers are active military and veterans themselves. For many seniors, this is the only person they'll see on a daily basis.
That's something Willie Brazil counts on. The 84-year-old army veteran lives alone in Northeast San Antonio, and usually uses a wheelchair or cane to get around. He likes knowing he'll have someone checking in on him every day.
"They always make sure I'm here, and I'm okay," Brazil said. "Sometimes it takes me a while to get to the door, but they wait and say, 'I know you're in there!'"
He doesn't see the point in cutting the program that so many veterans his age rely on.
"I don't get it, America has enough food to feed the entire world," he said. "We already waste so much food in this country. Can't we spare a little?"