REFILE-Meals on Wheels says donations surged after U.S. budget

(Refiles to show in last paragraph that Trump budget proposal includes “reduction in discretionary non-defense programs,” not “non-discretionary progams”)

NEW YORK, March 18 (Reuters) - Meals on Wheels America, the umbrella organization for 5,000 providers of home-delivered meals for seniors, said on Saturday that online donations have surged since the White House released a proposed budget that could lead to a big drop in its funding.

The organization, which provides advocacy services for the national network, received about $50,000 on Thursday after the budget blueprint was announced, compared with $1,000 on a typical day.

President Donald Trump this week proposed a 17.9 percent fiscal 2018 cut in funds for the Health and Human Services Department, which provides most of the government support for Meals on Wheels, the organization said.

The proposal did not say how the cut would affect the Administration for Community Living, the HHS agency that funds nutrition programs for the elderly, Meals on Wheels spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette said.

But Meals on Wheels said on its website that it is difficult to imagine a scenario under which the next federal budget would not have an impact on its services. According to the website, 3 percent of Meals on Wheels America’s annual budget comes from the federal government to host a resource center on nutrition and aging.

“While Meals on Wheels America and local Meals on Wheels programs are seeing an uptick in giving, it does not replace federal funding,” Bertolette told Reuters in an email.

The White House referred questions about the HHS budget to the department.

An HHS representative referred to a statement from Secretary Tom Price released earlier this week, which said in part: “HHS is dedicated to fulfilling our department’s mission to improve the health and well-being of the American people. This budget supports that mission and will help ensure we are delivering critical services to our fellow citizens...”

Bertolette said the national organization did not know whether local groups had a similar jump in donations.

One in six seniors “struggles with hunger,” according to the organization. Its services are provided free of charge for those who cannot afford to pay, according to the website.

Seniors who have fresh meals delivered daily show greater improvement in health and well-being than those who get frozen meals delivered once a week or no meals at all, the organization said, citing research from Brown University and funded by AARP Inc.

Trump’s first budget proposal calls for a sharp increase in military spending and a like reduction in most discretionary non-defense programs.

Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler