Ronda Walker: Sensationalism sells, and the truth be damned

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If you were to read a headline that stated, “Dog found on roadside” you might not even take the time to read the full article. But if the headline stated, “Fifty mutilated puppies found on roadside” that would definitely grab your attention. How about, “Flashes of light seen in night sky during storm” versus “Unexplained flashes of light seen by dozens could be UFOs.”

Sensationalism sells, and the truth be damned.

The United States federal budget process is very complicated; I do not understand it and won’t act like I do. But in my best Schoolhouse Rock attempt I will sum it up like this: the President submits a budget request to Congress, then the House and Senate have to come to some agreement on what they want to do, then Congressional hearings take place, and eventually the document (much evolved from the original version) goes back to the President for signature.

There are a kabillion (official number) programs that receive federal funds. So many programs, in fact, that our country has a $20 trillion deficit. Twenty Trillion Dollars. That is a ridiculous and unsustainable figure.

President Donald Trump recently submitted his budget request to Congress, the first step in the process, and the media absolutely freaked out. When everyone got their eye on the White House budget, it was probably some smart Democrat staffer on the Senate side that said, hey, let’s distract the entire nation from looking at this budget by scaring them to death with a headline that reads, “President Trump to gut Meals on Wheels program – seniors nationwide will begin to starve to death within the week.” And that’s exactly what they did, and it worked. It worked because first, the general public does not understand the budget process and they actually believe the President can unilaterally set the federal budget. And two, it worked because the news said it was true, so it must be true.

Wrong.

Meals on Wheels, administered in central Alabama by the Montgomery Area Council on Aging (MACOA), is a phenomenal program with a life-changing impact on local seniors. This program ensures homebound seniors in our area receive a hot midday meal. In addition to a nutritious meal, the seniors get a friendly smile and loving concern by the volunteer delivering their meal. Meals on Wheels is a program I support both personally as well as publicly through the appropriation of county funds. MACOA is a well run and effective organization and I encourage everyone to donate to MACOA or your local Meals on Wheels provider program.

Last week the media reported that the White House budget gutted funding to the Meals on Wheels program – that assertion is false. The White House does not make unilateral budget decisions, moreover Meals on Wheels isn’t even a federal program. This was all a ploy to confuse and distract us from the real issue of the day – our $20 trillion deficit. Twenty Trillion Dollars.

As educated Americans we have got to learn to stop chasing these false headlines. We have got to stop blindly reacting to what we read in the media, social and otherwise. But oftentimes we get all Chicken Little about a false issue not because we mistakenly believe it. We oftentimes spread the false narrative because it will help us win an argument, or it will help our side look better. That horrible monster Donald Trump is starving seniors to death; I told you he is a bad President. Yet, that same angry person that just lashed out about Trump never said a peep when President Barack Obama went year after year, after year and never submitted a budget at all which threw agencies dependent on federal funding into a tailspin of uncertainty.
Let’s take a look at what actually happened. The White House wants to cut funding to a federal program called Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). It is important to note that Presidents Bush and Obama both proposed cuts to CDBG as well, it just happened without all of this manufactured uproar about taking meals away from the elderly.

CDBG funds are federal funds given to states and localities to use at their discretion – and the use and effectiveness of these monies has been questioned for years, thus the desire to scale back on the spending for this program. A few localities designate a small amount of CDBG funds to their local Meals on Wheels program, so those programs could indeed be impacted in the event CDBG gets reduced. However the vast majority of federal dollars to Meals on Wheels comes not from CDBG but from the Department of Health and Human Services through the Older Americans Act. And, the majority of money spent on this program comes from state, local, and private funding, not federal.

Every day I read media reports and social media posts that are full of false information and opinion and people buy it hook line and sinker. It’s exhausting. Political spin and trickeration is nothing new. There are lies coming from both sides of the political aisle, likewise there is truth coming from both sides. As caring and involved Americans, we must do our due diligence, dig deep, and understand the facts for ourselves. Please never just rely on one source for your news, read multiple articles and authors and form an education conclusion. And, don’t forget to support your local Meals on Wheels provider!

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Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother of four and the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission.

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