Katko Meals on Wheels

U.S. Rep. John Katko visited North Area Meals on Wheels Friday to tour the operation and make food deliveries with volunteers. Jennifer Covert, program director of North Area Meals on Wheels, joins him for the news conference. 

Robert Harding, The Citizen

NORTH SYRACUSE — After a busy week in Washington, U.S. Rep. John Katko returned to central New York Friday and volunteered at a local Meals on Wheels location. 

Katko, R-Camillus, visited North Area Meals on Wheels in North Syracuse. The organization has 10 paid employees and 300 volunteers. It delivers about 115,000 meals annually to seniors in Onondaga County. 

"If you didn't do this, think of the cost to society if we didn't try to help people stay in their homes," he said. "The cost of putting them into nursing homes or assisted living facilities would be astronomical."

North Area Meals on Wheels, like other Meals on Wheels organizations across the country, receives private and public funding. There were concerns earlier this year when President Donald Trump's budget plan proposed eliminating or reducing funding for some of the programs that support Meals on Wheels. 

Ultimately, the program wasn't affected. Congress passed spending measures that funded the various initiatives. 

Katko, whose mother volunteered for Meals on Wheels in Camillus, opposed attempts to slash funding for the program. On Friday, he reiterated his opposition to cutting aid to Meals on Wheels and other federal programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has long been a target of budget cuts. Katko said he opposed a budget measure earlier this year that endorsed cutting funding to SNAP. 

"We gotta make sure that when you see places like (North Area Meals on Wheels) working so well that they are allowed to continue to work well," he said. "I know we have a budget crunch, but there are some programs you gotta really work hard to try and protect." 

Support for Meals on Wheels extends beyond federal funding sources. Jennifer Covert, program director for North Area Meals on Wheels, said they're always in need of volunteers.

While the location has 300 volunteers, some may take vacations or they live out of state during the winter. When they lose volunteers, they need more people to deliver meals to area residents. 

"We could use anybody at any time," she said. 

Katko's visit came before a telephone town hall with central New York seniors Friday afternoon. The focus of the telephone town hall was Medicaid and Medicare, two federal health insurance programs. 

Before heading out with a delivery driver to drop off meals, he lauded Covert and the work of North Area Meals on Wheels. 

The organization covers a large swath of the county. Volunteers deliver meals in Baldwinsville, Brewerton, Bridgeport, Cicero, Clay, Liverpool, Mattydale and North Syracuse. 

"This is the best of what America has to offer in my mind," Katko said. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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