Cicilline to Reintroduce Resolution to Reestablish House Aging Committee

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 18, 2018

In October 1992, the House eliminated the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging charged with investigating and putting a spotlight on aging policy. The Committee was instrumental in conducting research and publishing a number of reports on elder abuse, leading to the passage of reform legislation intended to improve nursing home operations and reduce abuse against patients. The Committee’s work also led to increased home care benefits for the aging, establishing research and care centers for Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other accomplishments on a broad array of aging issues.

Over 26 years later, on March 1, 2016, Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced his House resolution 160 to reestablish the Committee. He would attract Rhode Island Congressman James R. Langevin (D-RI) and 23 other cosigners (no Republicans) out of 435 lawmakers, but would ultimately see no legislative action taken. “I discussed this proposal with Speaker Paul Ryan (R- WI) and followed up with a letter asking him to move forward with this idea, but he declined to do so.”

“I think many of my Democratic colleagues didn’t think this resolution would get much traction with a Republican controlled House, but we did get Seniors Task Force Co-Chairs, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), which was important,” says the Rhode Island Congressman.

A New Opportunity with a House Democratic Majority

With a Republican-controlled Congress successfully blocking Cicilline’s simple resolution from reaching the floor for a vote, the Democratic lawmaker says he will reintroduce House resolution 160 in the new Congress with the Democrats controlling the chamber’s legislative agenda. “With Democrats in the majority, I think there will be more interest from other members in this resolution,” he says, noting, “We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive.

“I will first reintroduce the resolution [in the new Congress] and build support from members and then present the proposal to my House leadership. We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive,” says Cicilline, noting that he will reach out to aging groups for support, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations, whose leadership includes Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and AARP.

“Of course, I would be honored to lead the reestablished House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, but that decision will be made by the incoming Speaker,” says Cicilline.

According to Cicilline, the House can readily create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other aspects. Funding would be up to the Appropriations Committee. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Cicilline says that a newly established House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would be charged to conduct comprehensive studies on aging policy issues, funding priorities and trends. As its predecessor, its efforts would not be limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committee but broadly at targeted aging policy issues.

“Our nation’s seniors deserve dedicated attention by lawmakers to consider the legislative priorities that affect them, including strengthening Social Security and Medicare, reducing the costs of prescription drugs, and the particular challenges of poverty, housing, long-term care, and other important issues,” adds Cicilline.

Aging Advocates Call for Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging

When Max Richtman, CEO and President of the Washington, D.C-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), and former Staff Director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, heard of Cicilline’s efforts to bring back the House Select Committee on Aging almost three years ago, he remarked, “It’s long overdue.” The Select Committee will once again provide serious oversight and lay the ground work for House legislative proposals impacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said.

Richtman says that NCPSSM has just joined a working group to push for the reestablishment of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging spearheaded by Howard Bedlin of the National Council on Aging. This group will devise strategies to resurrect the Committee, adds Richtman.

Richard Fiesta, Executive Director at the Alliance for Retired Americans, whose organization chairs the LCAO, representing over 70 aging groups, says that its membership voted this month to support and push for the reestablishment of the House Select Committee on Aging. “Members during the discussion expressed views that the Committee can be a focal point on aging issues such as such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, long term care, and prescription drug prices,” says Fiesta, noting that it could provide important oversight on the U.S. Administration of Aging programs and be a forum for emerging issues such as home care needs.

“With 10,000 American turning age 65 each day, a Select Committee on Aging would be an important step in addressing the needs of older Americans,” says Fiesta.

Bill Benson, a former staff director of the Subcommittee on Housing and Consumer Interests, one of the four subcommittees of the House Select Committee on Aging, concurs with Richtman that the establishing the Committee is “long overdue.”

“During the 26 years we’ve been without the House counterpart to the Senate Special Committee on Aging,” which Benson also served on, “the House has not had an equivalent powerful voice for advancing critical issues for an aging society as we’ve had in the Senate. To successfully improve national policy requires both chambers of the Congress to be fully engaged. Restoring the House Select Committee on Aging would be important to do that.”

Howard Bedlin, National Council on Aging Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, adds: “A House Select Committee on Aging will raise visibility of the challenges older Americans are facing every day and support the work of authorizing committees to craft bipartisan policy solutions. Aging is an issue for all Americans. Discussion about the systemic strains that come with longevity and a growing aging population, or highlighting the many intergenerational needs of families across the country can only lead to better understanding and ultimately better support for all Americans as we age.”

Taking an Important Step to Protecting Seniors

As Cicilline gears up to put together the bipartisan support to pass his reintroduced to reestablish the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, he says, “Overall, this resolution represents an important step towards protecting our seniors and the benefits they have earned, like Social Security and Medicare.”

“The reestablishment of this Select Committee on Aging would emphasize Congress’ commitment to our current and future seniors and would allow us to focus our energy to ensure that they are able to live with dignity and enjoy a high quality of life,” he adds.

A Washington insider tells me that some Democratic House lawmakers and aging groups are now pushing to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging through new rules enacted by the incoming House Democratic leadership. The Washington, DC-based LCAO can now play a pivotal role in reestablishing the House Select Committee by advocating for and supporting Cicilline’s resolution that will be introduced in the next Congress or backing the attempt to change House rules. As the House takes up in the new Congress its debates on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and other issues of importance to older adults, it will be important to have a House Select Committee that once again puts the spotlight and attention on America’s aging issues.

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Trump Budget Proposal Makes Draconian Cuts to Aging Programs

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 19, 2017

Since his inauguration, GOP President Trump/s controversial and surprising Cabinet picks, some who have even called for the elimination of federal agencies that they were appointed to oversee, has sent a chilling message to the nation. That is business as usual is over inside the Washington Beltway, especially as to how federal dollars will be spent. The release of Trump’s first budget proposal, for fiscal year 2018, reveals draconian cuts throughout the federal government, this causing alarm among aging advocacy groups.

Trump Slashes Funding for Aging Programs and Services

James Firman, President and CEO, of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Aging (NCOA), notes Trump’s 62 page $.15 trillion budget proposal to remake the nation’s federal agencies and the programs they provide eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which provides job training and placement for adults 55 and over who have limited incomes and are trying to make ends meet. “Last year under SCSEP, 70,000 older adults received on-the-job training while providing nearly 36 million hours of staff support to 30,000 organizations, he says, noting that the value of this work exceeded $800 million, or nearly twice the program’s appropriations.

Trump’s budget proposal also zeros out the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides assistance to low-income households to meet the costs of electricity, heating, and cooling, says Firman, noting that about a third of the nearly 7 million households receiving LIHEAP benefits include an older adult aged 60 or older.

Finally, Trump’s budget proposal eliminates the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which funds volunteer programs that serve distressed communities and vulnerable population, says Firman, noting that three Senior Corps programs (the Foster Grandparent Program, Senior Companion Program, and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), will lose funding. “Together, these programs provide the nation with approximately 96 million hours of service, with a value of $2.1 billion,” he says.

“While the President’s budget blueprint does not cut Social Security Administration (SSA) funding (unlike the drastic reductions in non-defense discretionary spending), the 0.2% increase for SSA does little to solve serious customer service deficiencies for Social Security beneficiaries,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM). “Seven years ago, the SSA’s budget was cut by 10% (after adjusting for inflation), just as waves of Baby Boomers were beginning to retire and place a strain on the agency’s resources,” he says.

Richtman noted that while the numbers of Social Security beneficiaries were increasing, SSA was forced to implement a hiring freeze in 2016 and was not able pay its workers overtime. As a result, hold times on the SSA toll-free customer service number are now an average 15 minutes, more than 60 SSA field offices around the country have been shuttered, and the average wait time for a disability hearing has climbed up to 590 days.

Richtman points out that one million people are awaiting their scheduled disability hearing. “The disability case backlog and customer service will only get worse under the flat operating budget proposed by the President. To make up for previous cuts and restore vital services, the National Committee supports a 7% increase in the SSA’s operating budget,” he says.

NCPSSM’s Richtman warns that Trump’s “skinny budget” may keep millions of vulnerable seniors from participating in the Meals on Wheels program. As Meals on Wheels America has pointed out, Trump’s budget blueprint eliminates the U.S. Department of Human Development’s (HUD) Community Services Block Grant and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), on which some local Meals on Wheels programs rely on to deliver nutritious meals, safety checks, and friendly visits to seniors who need these services. (The President’s budget blueprint does not mention the Older Americans Act, which provides 35 percent of Meals on Wheels funding nationally.)

Richtman calls on President Trump to ride along with a Meals on Wheels delivery van and see for himself how seniors thrive on the meals they receive and the much-needed human interaction that comes with the food. “Maybe then he would move to protect – rather than cut – this vital program for our nation’s seniors,” he says.

Budget Proposal Puts Food Delivery Program on Budgetary Chopping Block

Trump’s elimination of HUD’s CDBG program in his proposed budget proposal will drastically impact many Meals on Wheels programs across the nation, but, fortunately Meals on Wheels of RI (MOWRI) will not be hit as hard, says Heather Amaral, executive director of Meals on Wheels of RI. But, Rhode Island’s only non-profit home-delivered meal program, will be indirectly impacted by Trumps CDBG cuts, she worries, noting that other programs that support her work receive these HUD funds, specifically, community centers that house our Capital City Café sites or local drop-off sites for the Home Delivered program. The Senior Community Service Employment Program that provides staff for several of our Café sites is also slated for elimination in President Trump’s “Skinny Budget.”

Amaral also is concerned about Trump cutting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ budget by 18 percent. “Our Older Americans Act Title III funding flows through this department. It is safe to assume that this significant cut will result in a reduction of our funding—funding that has remained at stagnant for over 10 years,” she says.

“It is impossible to predict any service cuts until a final federal budget is approved and any cuts to MOWRI are known. Any funding reductions will have a negative impact on her nonprofit agency’s ability to keep up with the increased demand of Rhode Island’s growing senior population,” says Amaral.

“Our programs directly address issues that are critical to Rhode Island’s vulnerable homebound seniors,” she says, noting that last year, MOWRI delivered 345,262 meals to over 2,560 homebound residents.

Last Thursday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney defended the Trump budget proposal cuts to the widely popular Meals on Wheels program. He told reporters that the program “sounds great” but is “not showing any results.”

Amaral counters by saying that research is providing the tremendous benefits of participating in the meals and wheels program — for seniors, homebound, family members, municipalities and the Rhode Island

The Brown University “More than a Meal” Report (published 2015), a randomized, controlled study of Meals on Wheels Programs across the country, reported that those who received daily-delivered meals experienced the greatest improvements in health and quality of life indicators,” says Amaral. The most vulnerable of our recipients, those who live alone, were more likely to report decreases in worry about being able to remain in home and improvements in feelings of isolation and loneliness, she noted.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) Study, published in September 2105, found that those receiving daily-delivered meals are more likely to report improvements in mental and physical health, reductions in feelings of isolation and anxiety about being able to remain at home, and lower rates of hospitalization and falls, adds Amaral.

“In that same report, AoA statistics show that a home delivered meal program can deliver a year’s worth of meals to a senior for the same cost as one day in the hospital, or one week in a nursing home, notes Amaral.

Speaking at the Hubert Humphrey Building dedication in Washington, D.C. on November 1, 1977, former U.S. Vice President (1965-69) Hubert Humphrey stated “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” A quick read of the Trump’s budget proposal revealing huge cuts for domestic programs, it’s clear to many that his Administration has failed it’s test.

If you want to learn more about MOWRI, sign up for meals, volunteer or donate, please visit http://www.rimeals.org or call 401-351-6700.

Aging Groups Consider Obama’s Fiscal 2014 Budget Proposal a “Mixed Bag”

Published in Woonsocket Call, April 21, 2013

President Barack Obama, missing the federal mandated budget submission deadline by over two month, finally unveils his fiscal blueprint on April 10, giving Capitol Hill a peek as to how he would fund the nation’s federal agencies, programs and services.

The President proposed a $3.8 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2014, that seeks to slash the huge federal deficit by a net $600 billion over 10 years, raises taxes on the wealthy, and puts the breaks to rising costs of two very popular senior programs, Social Security and Medicare.

Senior groups call President Obama’s the first budget proposal of his second presidential term, a “mixed bag.” His fiscal blueprint would eliminate the draconian cuts of the sequester, that is the arbitrary, across the board cuts Congress imposed this year. However, Obama seeks to reduce the federal deficit by calling for another $200 billion in cuts to discretionary programs – half from defense programs and half from domestic programs.

Braking the Rising Costs of Social Security Despite the Social Security Trustee’s 2012 Annual Report that the entitlement program has the financial resources to pay all benefits through 2033 (see my June 1, 2012 Commentary in Pawtucket Times), Social Security benefits are targeted in the recently released budget plan for substantial cuts by adopting the “chained” consumer price index (CPI) for the purpose of calculating Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the Obama Administration sees this switch as “a technical adjustment.” Aging group warn that using the “chained” CPI will substantially reduce the Social Security benefits of current and future beneficiaries. “If it is adopted, a typical 65 year-old would see an immediate decrease of about $130 per year in Social Security benefits. At age 95, the same senior would face a 9.2 percent reduction—almost $1,400 per year,” notes NCPSSM.

While all beneficiaries will feel the impact of this change, its effect will be greatest on those who draw benefits at earlier ages (e.g., military retirees, disabled veterans and workers) and those who live the longest, says NCPSSM, especially “women who have outlived their other sources of income, have depleted their assets, and rely on Social Security as their only lifeline to financial stability.”.

With Republican Congressional lawmakers generally supportive of Obama’s push to rein in Social Security costs, through the use of the “chained” CPI, liberal Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. David Cicilline, representing Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, strongly oppose the President or any Congressional efforts to cut Social Security to lower the nation’s federal deficit.

Rep. Cicilline calls for reforming the nation’s tax code by ending subsidies for “Big Oil,” along with “making responsible target spending cuts,” to slash the nation’s huge federal deficit .

AARP Poll Says, Keep Your Hands Off Social Security
In a statement, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy A. LeaMond, quickly reacted to the Democratic President’s efforts to use the “chained” CPI to control rising Social Security program costs.

While AARP recognizes the need for the President and Congress to confront budget challenges facing the nation, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group calls for “responsible solutions, not harmful proposals” that would hurt older beneficiaries or threaten the retirement security of the generations that follow, says LeaMond.

LeaMond said, “AARP is deeply dismayed that President Obama would propose cutting the benefits of current and future Social Security recipients, including children, widows, veterans and people with disabilities, to reduce the deficit. Social Security is a self-financed program that doesn’t contribute to the deficit, so it shouldn’t be cut to reduce it.”

AARP’s polls indicated that older Americans, across the political spectrum, agree with nonprofit group’s opposition to the “chained” CPI. LeaMond, notes. The recently released national survey found that “fully 84% of voters age 50 and over oppose cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit.”

“Instead of making harmful cuts to Medicare or shifting additional costs onto beneficiaries, we need to look for savings throughout the health care system, including Medicare,” suggests LeaMond. She says that also “lowering the costs of prescription drugs, innovations that promote better care, reward improved outcomes and make health care programs more efficient and less wasteful have the potential to hold down systemic high health care costs, including costs in Medicare.”

Finally, LeaMond adds, “We know that prescription drugs are one of the key drivers of escalating health care costs, so we appreciate the President’s inclusion of proposals to find savings in lower drug costs. And we applaud his plan to accelerate closure of the ‘donut hole’ in Medicare Part D by 2015, which would reduce seniors’ often burdensome out-of-pocket health care expenses.”

A Snap Shot of Other Aging Budget Issues
Howard Bedlin, Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at the National Council on Aging (NCOA), in a written statement calls Obama’s budget proposal a “mixed-bag” when it comes to seniors.”

Bedlin acknowledges that the recently released Obama budget eliminates the sequester cuts to critical programs like Meals on Wheels and other Older Americans Act services, elderly housing, and other vital senior services. “It is unfortunate that cuts are proposed for low-income energy assistance and senior job training and placement programs,” he says.
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According to Bedlin, the President’s budget also protects SNAP (Food Stamps) and Medicaid, in sharp contrast to the drastic cuts approved in the Republican-controlled House budget proposal. “Cuts in Medicaid would be devastating to the millions of vulnerable seniors who rely on the program for long-term care and Medicare low-income protections,” he says.
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Meanwhile, a major concern for NCOA with the President’s budget surrounds Medicare and Social Security. While the organization supports some of the Medicare reductions, the proposed $370 billion in additional cuts are “excessive and several will harm” beneficiaries (more than half having incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line), says Bedlin, these cuts in addition to the $716 billion in Medicare cuts under health reform and significant reductions in spending growth over the past three years.

Also, the proposed new home health co-payment will fall primarily on lower-income older women with multiple chronic health conditions, and lead to premature nursing home placement, predicts Bedlin. “The proposed increase in the Medicare Part B deductible would be especially harmful and unaffordable to millions of seniors with incomes just above the federal poverty line ($958 per month),” he says.

Finally, Bedlin notes that the proposed Medigap surcharge would penalize seniors for decisions made by their doctors, cause major market disruption, and seriously confuse many current policy holders. The proposal to further increase Medicare premiums based on income could result in those with incomes of about $47,000 being forced to pay more.

NCOA joined AARP and NCPSSM and virtually every other national aging organization in opposing the President’s proposal to cut the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) through the use of a “chained” CPI.

A Final Note… With Obama’s proposed budget now thrown in the ring with the House and Senate budgets already drafted and voted on, will Congressional gridlock keep the Democratic President, the GOP-Controlled House and Democratic Senate from working together to hammer out a consensus, bipartisan compromise? Only time will tell if elected lawmakers clearly get the message from the American people, “put the people first and not your political party.”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.