A warm meal and friendly smile can make all the difference to those without either, and 200 more Minnesota veterans could receive both under a bill heard Monday by the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.
Sponsored by Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina), HF122 would appropriate $540,000 from the General Fund to the Metro Meals on Wheels program in fiscal year 2024 and set a base appropriation for the same amount in fiscal year 2025.
The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. It would also require the program to submit a report each of those years to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Legislature explaining how the money was used and the number of those served.
Patrick Rowan, executive director of Metro Meals on Wheels, said his organization works with 30 other nonprofits in the Twin Cities metro area to deliver fresh, nutritious meals. Last year it served over 1.7 million meals to 12,000 people including seniors and people living with disabilities in the area, an increase of more than 50% from 2019.
“Over 17,000 people volunteered to ensure that their neighbors received a warm meal and a smile,” Rowan said. “And we know that without this vital service many of them would be in a nursing home or other institution suffering from the illnesses they endure.”
But he said only a fraction of those they now serve are veterans. The bill would allow his organization to work directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs to become more proactive and identify 200 additional veterans, regardless of age, and provide them a warm meal five days a week.
Rep. Bjorn Olson (R-Fairmont) asked if funding would also be available to similar work in other parts of the state. Rowan said this funding would target the highest concentration of veterans in Minnesota and provide evidence of success for eventually expanding services to other areas.