At Last, Aid for Senior Nutrition That Offers More Than Crumbs

Long before the coronavirus hit, nutrition programs that served the nation’s older adults struggled to keep up with a growing demand. Often, they could not.

In Charlotte, N.C., and nine surrounding counties, for example, the waiting list for Meals on Wheels averaged about 1,200 people. But Linda Miller, director of the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, which coordinates the program, always assumed the actual need was higher.

She knew some clients skipped meals because they couldn’t travel to a senior center for a hot lunch every weekday; some divided a single home-delivered meal to serve as both lunch and dinner.

Some never applied for help. “Just like with food stamps, which are underused,” Ms. Miller said, “people are embarrassed: ‘I worked hard all my life; I don’t want charity.’”

5.4 million older recipients.

For years, advocates for older adults have lobbied Congress for more significant federal help. Although the Older Americans Act has enjoyed bipartisan support, small annual upticks in appropriations left 5,000 local organizations constantly lagging in their ability to feed seniors.

From 2001 to 2019, funding for the Older Americans Act rose an average of 1.1 percent annually — a 22 percent increase over almost two decades, according to an analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute. But adjusted for inflation, the funding for nutrition services actually fell 8 percent. State and local matching funds, foundation grants and private donations helped keep kitchens open and drivers delivering, but many programs still could not bridge their budget gaps.

food insecure,” meaning they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

And that shortfall was before the pandemic. Once programs hastily closed congregant settings last spring, a Meals on Wheels America survey found that nearly 80 percent of the programs reported that new requests for home-delivered meals had at least doubled; waiting lists grew by 26 percent.

Along with money, the Covid relief legislation gave these local programs needed flexibility. Normally, to qualify for Meals on Wheels, homebound clients must require assistance with activities of daily living. The emergency appropriations allowed administrators to serve less frail seniors who were following stay-at-home orders, and to transfer money freely from congregant centers to home delivery.

Even so, the increased caseloads, with people who had never applied before seeking meals, left some administrators facing dire decisions.

In Northern Arizona, about 800 clients were receiving home-delivered meals in February 2020. By June, that number had ballooned to 1,265, including new applicants as well as those who had previously eaten at the program’s 18 now-shuttered senior centers. Clients were receiving 14 meals each week.

By summer, despite federal relief funds, “I was out of money,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. She faced the grim task of telling 342 seniors, who had been added to the rolls for three emergency months, that she had to remove them. “People were crying on the phone,” she recalled. “I literally had a man say he was going to commit suicide.” (She reinstated him.) Even those who remained started receiving five meals a week instead of 14.

diminish loneliness and help keep seniors out of expensive nursing homes. They also may help reduce falls, although those findings were based on a small sample and did not achieve statistical significance.

Interestingly, Dr. Thomas’s research found daily meal deliveries had greater effects than weekly or twice-monthly drop-offs of frozen meals, a practice many local organizations have adopted to save money.

Frail or forgetful clients may have trouble storing, preparing and remembering to eat frozen meals. But the primary reason daily deliveries pay off, her study shows, is the regular chats with drivers.

“They build relationships with their clients,” Dr. Thomas said. “They might come back later to fix a rickety handrail. If they’re worried about a client’s health, they let the program know. The drivers are often the only people they see all day, so these relationships are very important.”

a prepandemic evaluation found.

So while program administrators relish a rare opportunity to expand their reach, they worry that if Congress doesn’t sustain this higher level of appropriations, the relief money will be spent and waiting lists will reappear.

“There’s going to be a cliff,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. “What’s going to happen next time? I don’t want to have to call people and say, ‘We’re done with you now.’ These are our grandparents.”

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Why Buy a Yacht When You Can Buy a Newspaper?

Billionaires have had a pretty good pandemic. There are more of them than there were a year ago, even as the crisis has exacerbated inequality. But scrutiny has followed these ballooning fortunes. Policymakers are debating new taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Even their philanthropy has come under increasing criticism as an exercise of power as much as generosity.

One arena in which the billionaires can still win plaudits as civic-minded saviors is buying the metropolitan daily newspaper.

The local business leader might not have seemed like such a salvation a quarter century ago, before Craigslist, Google and Facebook began divvying up newspapers’ fat ad revenues. Generally, the neighborhood billionaires are considered worth a careful look by the paper’s investigative unit. But a lot of papers don’t even have an investigative unit anymore, and the priority is survival.

This media landscape nudged newspaper ownership from the vanity column toward the philanthropy side of the ledger. Paying for a few more reporters and to fix the coffee machine can earn you acclaim for a lot less effort than, say, spending two decades building the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

$680 million bid by Hansjörg Wyss, a little-known Swiss billionaire, and Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a Maryland hotel magnate, for Tribune Publishing and its roster of storied broadsheets and tabloids like The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun.

Should Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum succeed in snatching Tribune away from Alden Global Capital, whose bid for the company had already won the backing of Tribune’s board, the purchase will represent the latest example of a more than decade-long quest by some of America’s ultrawealthy to prop up a crumbling pillar of democracy.

If there was a signal year in this development, it came in 2013. That is when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post and the Red Sox’ owner, John Henry, bought The Boston Globe.

“I invested in The Globe because I believe deeply in the future of this great community, and The Globe should play a vital role in determining that future,” Mr. Henry wrote at the time.

led a revival of the paper to its former glory. And after a somewhat rockier start, experts said that Mr. Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners, have gone a long way toward restoring that paper as well.

Norman Pearlstine, who served as executive editor for two years after Dr. Soon-Shiong’s purchase and still serves as a senior adviser. “I don’t think that’s open to debate or dispute.”

From Utah to Minnesota and from Long Island to the Berkshires, local grandees have decided that a newspaper is an essential part of the civic fabric. Their track records as owners are somewhat mixed, but mixed in this case is better than the alternative.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a report last year showing that in the previous 15 years, more than a quarter of American newspapers disappeared, leaving behind what they called “news deserts.” The 2020 report was an update of a similar one from 2018, but just in those two years another 300 newspapers died, taking 6,000 journalism jobs with them.

“I don’t think anybody in the news business even has rose colored glasses anymore,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, a nonprofit journalism advocacy group. “They took them off a few years ago, and they don’t know where they are.”

“The advantage of a local owner who cares about the community is that they in theory can give you runway and also say, ‘Operate at break-even on a cash-flow basis and you’re good,’” said Mr. Rosenstiel.

won a prestigious Polk Award for its coverage of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

“The communities that have papers owned by very wealthy people in general have fared much better because they stayed the course with large newsrooms,” said Ken Doctor, on hiatus as a media industry analyst to work as C.E.O. and founder of Lookout Local, which is trying to revive the local news business in smaller markets, starting in Santa Cruz, Calif. Hedge funds, by contrast, have expected as much as 20 percent of revenue a year from their properties, which can often be achieved only by stripping papers of reporters and editors for short-term gain.

Alden has made deep cuts at many of its MediaNews Group publications, including The Denver Post and The San Jose Mercury News. Alden argues that it is rescuing papers that might otherwise have gone out of business in the past two decades.

And a billionaire buyer is far from a panacea for the industry’s ills. “It’s not just, go find yourself a rich guy. It’s the right rich person. There are lots of people with lots of money. A lot of them shouldn’t run newspaper companies,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the former editor of The Chicago Tribune. “Sam Zell is Exhibit A. So be careful who you ask.”

beaten a retreat from the industry. And there have even been reports that Dr. Soon-Shiong has explored a sale of The Los Angeles Times (which he has denied).

“The great fear of every billionaire is that by owning a newspaper they will become a millionaire,” said Mr. Rosenstiel.

Elizabeth Green, co-founder and chief executive at Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news organization with 30 reporters in eight cities around the country, said that rescuing a dozen metro dailies that are “obviously shells of their former selves” was never going to be enough to turn around the local news business.

“Even these attempts are still preserving institutions that were always flawed and not leaning into the new information economy and how we all consume and learn and pay for things,” said Ms. Green, who also co-founded the American Journalism Project, which is working to create a network of nonprofit outlets.

Ms. Green is not alone in her belief that the future of American journalism lies in new forms of journalism, often as nonprofits. The American Journalism Project received funding from the Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, the Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective, which also bought The Atlantic. Herbert and Marion Sandler, who built one of the country’s largest savings and loans, gave money to start ProPublica.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth of relatively small nonprofits that are now part of what I would call the philanthropic journalistic complex,” said Mr. Doctor. “The question really isn’t corporate structure, nonprofit or profit, the question is money and time.”

operating as a nonprofit.

After the cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest bought The Philadelphia Inquirer, he set up a hybrid structure. The paper is run as a for-profit, public benefit corporation, but it belongs to a nonprofit called the Lenfest Institute. The complex structure is meant to maintain editorial independence and maximum flexibility to run as a business while also encouraging philanthropic support.

Of the $7 million that Lenfest gave to supplement The Inquirer’s revenue from subscribers and advertisers in 2020, only $2 million of it came from the institute, while the remaining $5 million came from a broad array of national, local, institutional and independent donors, said Jim Friedlich, executive director and chief executive of Lenfest.

“I think philosophically, we’ve long accepted that we have no museums or opera houses without philanthropic support,” said Ms. Lipinski. “I think journalism deserves the same consideration.”

Mr. Bainum has said he plans to establish a nonprofit group that would buy The Sun and two other Tribune-owned Maryland newspapers if he and Mr. Wyss succeed in their bid.

“These buyers range across the political spectrum, and on the surface have little in common except their wealth,” said Mr. Friedlich. “Each seems to feel that American democracy is sailing through choppy waters, and they’ve decided to buy a newspaper instead of a yacht.”

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Governors across the political spectrum push to expand in-person learning.

A bipartisan group of governors have decided it is time to get students back into classrooms, despite union resistance and bureaucratic hesitancy.

Democratic governors in Oregon, California, New Mexico and North Carolina, and Republicans in Arizona, Iowa, West Virginia and New Hampshire, among other states, have all taken steps to prod, and sometimes force, school districts to open.

The result has been a major increase in the number of students who now have the option of attending school in-person, or will in the next month.

According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were operating fully remotely on March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November. Forty-one percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that time. Those findings have been echoed by other surveys.

like Michigan, some schools have had to revert to remote learning temporarily because so many students were in quarantine.

But for the time being, at least, the moves by these governors have yielded significant results.

In Washington, before Mr. Inslee issued his proclamation, the state’s largest district, Seattle Public Schools, was locked in a standoff with its teachers’ union over a reopening plan. Days after Mr. Inslee announced he would require districts to bring students back at least part time, the two sides reached an agreement for all preschool and elementary school students and some older students with disabilities to return by April 5.

In Ohio, nearly half of all students were in districts that were fully remote at the beginning of 2021. By March 1, that number was down to 4 percent, and it has shrunk further in the weeks since.

“It’s worked exceedingly well,” Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, said of his decision to offer vaccines to Ohio districts that pledged to reopen. “We’ve got these kids back in school.”

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