Trump Spending Priorities Would Fray Social Safety Net Programs

Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 16, 2019

Last Monday, President Donald Trump released his proposed FY 2020 budget request to Congress. Lawmakers, who rejected many of these budgetary spending requests in the president’s previous two submitted budgets proposals, consider his latest to be “dead-on-arrival.”

But, Trump’s $4.7 trillion fiscal blueprint, outlined in the 150-page “Budget for a Better America,” gives us a clear picture of his spending priorities and policies he seeks to implement through executive orders and regulator changes.

Trump’s FY 2020 spending plan proposes funding increases for combating the opioid epidemic, improving veteran’s health care, fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure ($200 billion increase), even giving the Pentagon a 5 percent increase in spending exceeding what the military asked for. White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump successfully pushed for the FY 2020 budget to include $750 million to establish a paid parental leave program and a $1 billion one-time fund to provide childcare to under served populations.

Trump’s budget proposal makes a commitment of $291 million to eliminate the spread of HIV within a decade, it slashes the National Institutes of Health’s funding by 12 percent, and the budget for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention by about 10 percent.

Trump does not back away from his controversial stance of building a wall, putting in an additional $8.6 trillion for the construction of a U.S. Mexico border barrier. Congress had earlier opposed his demand for $5.7 billion for the construction project.

Trump Budget Proposal Puts Senior’s Earned Benefits at Risk

In 2016, Presidential candidate Trump had pledged not to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, but he does in his submitted FY 2020 budget proposal.

Trump calls for a 5 percent cut in non-defense federal agencies, including a whopping $ 1.5 trillion in Medicaid over 10 years. The budget plan instead allocates $1.2 trillion to create “market-based health care grants,” (a.k.a block grants) for states that would start in 2021. This gives states the power to set their own rules for this program.

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would be eliminated by Trump’s FY 2020 budget proposal by ending ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions and causing millions of people to join the ranks of the uninsured. About 15 million more Americans have joined Medicaid since the ACA expansion was enacted.

Trump’s budget proposal also cuts Medicare by $845 billion over the next decade by cutting payments to hospitals and physicians, rooting out fraud and abuse, and by lowering prescription drug costs.

Meanwhile, the Social Security Disability Insurance program takes a huge budgetary cut of $25 billion and the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) operating budget is slashed by 1 percent, at a time when the agency is working hard to ratchet up its customer service provide to SSA beneficiaries.

Trump’s budget proposal would cut $220 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly referred to as the food stamp program. The program currently serves 39 million people. Under this budget, beneficiaries would be required to be employed for 20 hours a week to be eligible for assistance and replacing the EBT-debit card used to purchase groceries with the delivery of a “Harvest Box” filled with non-perishable foods like cereal and pasta, canned goods and surplus dairy products.

Housing and Urban Development’s 202 housing program for seniors and people with disabilities takes a $36 million hit, says long-time aging advocate Bill Benson, principal of Washington, D.C.-based Health Benefits ABC, in the March 15th issue of Aging Policy and Public Health News.

According to Benson, several Older Americans Act programs including the Family Caregiver Support program would be cut in Trump’s budget proposal. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program would be cut by $1 million. Elder Justice Programs would also be cut under the President’s budget including a $2 million cut to the Elder Justice Initiative at Administration for Community Living.

” Cruelest of all [budgetary cuts] is the proposed out-right elimination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) which is the only source of sustained federal funding to states for Adult Protective Services (APS),” says Benson. Some 37 states use SSBGs to support their APS programs. SSBG is also used by states for a number of other services benefiting older adults including home-delivered meals and case management.

Shortchanging Seniors

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) warns that Trump’s budget proposal shortchanges seniors. “In combination with 2017’s tax cuts for the wealthy and the administration’s failure to allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma, the Trump budget shows that his administration is not plugged into the realities of being elderly in America,” he says.

Richtman says that Trump’s budget plan also proposes to eliminate federal grants that help pay for programs under the Older Americans Act, such as Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance for the elderly poor.”

According to Richtman, the 116th Congress gives seniors hope with introduced legislation that would boost Social Security benefits and expand Medicare coverage to include dental, hearing and vision services, changes that an overwhelming majority of Americans support. He calls on Congress to “quickly reject this callous budget proposal — and take decisive action to enhance the well-being of older Americans.

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sees Trump’s newly released budget proposal as very troubling, too. “It sharply cuts funding in the part of the budget that invests in future economic growth through education and training, scientific research, infrastructure, and the like,” he says.

“It reverses progress in making affordable health care available to people who don’t have employer coverage or can’t afford private coverage. It cuts basic assistance substantially for families, children, and elderly and disabled people who are in need and struggle to get by. And, it doubles down on policies that take away health care, food, and housing when adults aren’t able to meet a work requirement,” says Greenstein.
“Despite bemoaning deficits, it calls for making the costly 2017 tax cuts — which largely benefit those who already have high incomes and wealth — permanent,” he adds.

Richtman believes that Trump’s 2020 spending proposal serves as a warning of what the administration would do if it were not for the firewall known as the Democratic-led House of Representatives. “These draconian ideas – though rejected by voters in the 2018 mid-terms – remain in the conservative political bloodstream, requiring continued advocacy on the part of seniors and their champions in Congress,” he says.

The release of Trump’s FY 2020 budget program begins the Democratic party’s efforts to retake the White House and Senate in the 2020 presidential election, just over 598 days away. By making major cuts in Social Security and Medicare and turning Medicaid into a state block grant program, Trump is giving Democratic challengers in the 2020 presidential election fodder to create politically-charged themes for ads to turn senior voters against him for seeking cuts in these popular domestic programs.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare, and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

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National Report Grapples with Impending Alzheimer’s Epidemic

Published in the Pawtucket Times, July 25, 2013
 
            This 56 page report must not sit on a bureaucrat’s dusty shelf.          
 
            With the graying of the nation’s population and a skyrocketing incident rate of persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention release a report last week to address a major public health issue, an impending Alzheimer’s disease epidemic on the horizon.  
 
            Researchers say that in 2013, an estimated 5 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Unless more effective ways are identified and implemented to prevent or treat this devastating cognitive disorder the prevalence may triple, skyrocketing to almost 14 million people.  Simply put, Alzheimer’s disease is now the 6th leading cause of death and 5th among those 65 to 85 years of age.
 

A Call to Arms

 
            On July 15, 2013, CDC, the federal agency charged with protecting public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability, and the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, unveiled The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships, 2013-2018 at the 2013 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston.
 
           The released report calls for public health officials to quickly act to stem the growing Alzheimer’s crisis and is a follow-up to the 2007 The Healthy Brain Initiative: a National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health.
 
            “The public health community is now paying greater attention to the Alzheimer’s epidemic that millions of families have been facing for decades and that is poised to drastically increase,” said Robert Egged, Vice President of Public Policy at the Alzheimer’s Association. “On the heels of the 2012 release of the country’s first-ever National Alzheimer’s Plan, the Alzheimer’s Association and CDC have partnered again to create a tool for public health officials to improve the quality of life for those families and advance cognitive health as a integral component of public health,” says Egged.
 
            Released five years ago, the original Road Map addressed cognitive health and functioning from a public health perspective and provided a framework for the public health community to engage cognitive health, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. More than 280 experts in the field contributed to this new Road Map report that outlines specific actions steps that state and local public health officials can take to promote cognitive functioning, address cognitive impairment for individuals living in the community and help meet the needs of caregivers.
 
            While federal agencies play a critical role in leading and funding efforts to address Alzheimer’s disease, state and local health departments organize and provide public health services at the community level.
 
            “The goal of the Healthy Brain Initiative is to enhance understanding of the public health burden of cognitive impairment, help build evidence-based communications and programs, and translate that foundation into effective public health practices in states and communities. This Road Map provides guidance to states, communities, and national partners to plan for and respond to this major public health issue,” said Lynda Anderson, PhD, Director of the Healthy Aging Program at CDC.
 
            A former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Administration on Aging, Bill Benson, now a managing partner of Silver Spring, Maryland-based, Health Benefits ABC, notes that the cost of providing care to people with Alzheimer’s disease will have a drastic impact on the nation’s economy due to the cost of lost productivity, and the care costs for those no longer able to care from themselves. “This does not include the profound personal impact and consequences to those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and to their loved ones,” he says.
 
            “The scope, cost and the extraordinary burden both to individuals and to society make it a true health crisis,” says Benson, stressing that public health officials need to know more about the disease and those who have it, better ways to diagnosis it.  There must also be a better understanding of the economic impact and programs and services that are proven to ease the burden of those who suffer from it and their caregivers, he adds. 
 

Action Steps for Local Communities to Follow

 
            The Road Map report includes more than 30 action steps that the public health community can take at the federal, state and local levels over the next five years to address cognitive health and cognitive impairment from a public health perspective. The actions are intended as a guide for what state and local public health officials could do – on their own or with other national, state and local partners. Agencies are encouraged to select those actions that best fit state and local needs and customize them to match priorities, capabilities and resources.
 
            As to specifics, the Road Map report calls for improved monitoring and evaluation of persons with dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and younger onset as they relate to employment and employers, and defining the needs of these individuals and their caregivers.  Also, increased support should be given to state and local needs assessments to identify racial/ethnic; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; socioeconomic; and geographic disparities related to cognitive health and impairment.
 
            Public health officials must educate and empower the nation in confronting the epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease by promoting advance care planning and financial planning to care partners, families, and individuals with dementia in the early stages before function declines.  They can also identify and promote culturally appropriate strategies designed to increase public awareness about dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, to reduce conflicting messages, decrease stigma, and promote early diagnosis.
 
            The Road Map report urges that sound public health policies be developed and partnerships created to collaborate in the development, implementation, and maintenance of state Alzheimer’s disease plans. It also recommends that state and local government integrate cognitive health and impairment into state and local government plans (e.g. aging, coordinated chronic disease, preparedness, falls, and transportation plans).
 
            Finally, the Road Map report also recommends that strategies be developed to help ensure that state public health departments have expertise in cognitive health and impairment related to research and best practices.  Support must also be provided to continuing education efforts that improve healthcare providers’ ability to recognize early signs of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and to offer counseling to individuals and their care partners.
 

A Local View

            Maureen Maigret, policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI coordinator of the Rhode Island Older Women’s Policy Group, agrees with the assessment of theRoad Map report, especially with the Ocean State having the “highest percent of persons age 85 and over in the 2010 Census and this is the population that is growing fast and most likely to have dementia.”
 
            Maigret notes the economic impact will have significant impact across our economy for the state budget and for individual families. “It is imperative for our public officials to promote programs to identify those with early cognitive problems and implement policies to strengthen community and caregiver supports that will help persons to safely remain in home and community settings as long as possible, she says.
 
            The Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation this year that requires caregiver assessments in the state Medicaid long term care system.  “It’s a good first step in helping caregivers. But we must do so much more to inform the public about available resources, to adequately fund assistance programs such as RIde, Meals on Wheels and respite services and to promote cognitive screening as part of annual wellness visits funded by Medicare,” she says. 
 
            “Having a clear active mind at any age is important but as we get older it can mean the difference between dependence and independent living,” says Executive Director, Donna McGowan, of the Alzheimer’s Association-Rhode Island Chapter. “We are excited that the CDC has partnered again with the Alzheimer’s Association to create a tool for public health officials to improve the quality of life for those families afflicted by the disease,” she says.
 
            For more information on The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships, 2013-2018, visit alz.org/publichealth. For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and the Alzheimer’s Association, call 1-800-272-3900 or visit alz.org®.
 
            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.