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.

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Senior Centers, Not Just a Place to Play Bingo

Published February 1, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Today’s senior centers are not the places our parents once visited to knit or play bingo. Established in the 1980s by the U.S. Administration on Aging, the centers programming has slowly evolved to encompass activities that encourage healthy aging and wellness, says Mary Lou Moran, who oversees Pawtucket’s Leon A. Mathieu Senior Center. Established in 1980, last year over 15,000 clients took advantage of programs and social services offered, or to eat a nutritious meal, she notes.

At Rhode Island’s 47 Senior Centers, “We are now looking at the whole person, the body, mind and spirit,” notes Moran, a former Program Coordinator who now serves as Director of Senior Services. “It is very important that we encourage individuals to live independently and safely in their communities.”

At the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, health screenings, specifically taking blood pressure readings, are performed by nursing students from Rhode Island College and URI Pharmacy students, notes Moran. “Proper nutritional counseling is a very big deal, too,” she adds, noting that a nutritionist is available to provide individual counseling.

Through the Eyes of Clients

Linda Slade discovered the Leon Mathieu Senior Center after retiring from working in retail for over 38 years. Initially, attending a few exercise activities in October 2010, she was forced to stop attending, taking care of her terminally ill husband. After his passing she came back four months later “to just be with people again.”

Slade, initially had misconceptions about Pawtucket’s Senior Center. “I was a young sixty-two and not really sure what to expect,” she said, expecting to be surrounded by very old people. That first visit totally changed her mind, seeing younger people. Besides knitting, playing cards or cribbage, the Pawtucket resident participates regularly in arthritis class, stretch exercises and Tai Chi.

Before attending the Senior Center’s exercise classes, Slade’s son had given her a gym membership. “Basically I was intimated to go because of the younger people,” she says. Now Slade is more comfortable working up a sweat with her Senior Center exercise companions.

According to Slade, the City’s Senior Center offers something [activities] for everyone, her involvement even gave her an opportunity to develop new social bonds. “I had a work family that I truly adored, but now I adore my Senior Center family, too” she said. Just like the fictional bar, Cheers, Slade knows everyone’s name in all her activity groups.

“Going bonkers” and feeling a need to get out of her home propelled Nancy Connor, 79, a former Secretary to the CEO of Citizens bank, to the doors of the Leon Mathieu Senior Center. Aortic valve surgery forced the Pawtucket resident into an early retirement in her early seventies from a job she loved and found intellectually challenging.

Once the Pawtucket widow, who lives with her companion, Mave, a 60 pound Royal Standard Poodle, found the Leon Mathieu Senior Center in the Yellow Page Directory, she went to see what it was all about. She’s been going daily ever since.

The Grand Dame of the Literary Circle

Like Slade, before attending, Connor had a misconception about Senior Centers, thinking that she would see “a bunch of old people doddering along.” Now the enthusiastic participant has found out that this was not the case.

According to Connor, not as many men come into the Center. “We really do outnumber them,” she quips, noting that they “usually appear out of thin air when there is a high-low jack game.

Walking with a cane keeps Connor from exercising but she hopes to some day explore the Chinese practice of Tai Chi. However, she gets activity involved in other pursuits. Never published, she took up writing, participating in the Book and Drama Clubs, and now considers herself the “Grandma Moses” of the Senior Center’s literary circle.

Meanwhile, Connor and a few other older participants meet monthly with third year Brown Medical students to teach them the art of speaking to the “geriatric crowd,” she says. At Friday coffee hours, invited guests come into the Senior Center’s large activity room to entertain, teach or educate, she says. If a cancellation happens, she’s drafted to play piano for the crowd in the activity room.

Like in Senior Centers across the Ocean State, every day Connor can eat lunch, only paying a minimal fee. “It is wonderful stuff, from soup to nuts,” she remarks.

A Medical Model

Jill Anderson, Executive Director of Senior Services Inc., a private nonprofit corporation established in 1975, manages the Woonsocket Senior Center. Each day over 100 clients (around 500 annually) participate in exercise activities and health and wellness programs at her site. A day care program in her building handles 35 people who have limitations in their daily living.

Reflecting its medical model philosophy, the Woonsocket Senior Center’s registered nurse, who also serves as the Wellness Director, counsels people on how to change behaviors to maintain better health. Health screening, including blood pressure checks, diabetic and bone density testing are also part of a Wellness program.

About 20 retired volunteers regularly help out each day serving lunch and assisting staff, notes Anderson. “These individuals create a friendly atmosphere for the new clients, making sure they don’t sit by themselves.”

Although many of Rhode Island’s Senior Centers have an annual membership fee or charge registration fees to participate in activities, Anderson’s nonprofit does not. “We just ask people to make a voluntary weekly contribution of one dollar to fill the gap that fundraising, grants and memorials don’t cover.”

Like in many other Senior Centers, computer courses in a computer lab is offered, says Anderson. “We would like to do more with computers, maybe we can some day offer both Intermediate and Advanced computer classes, too,” she adds, because the older clients are interested in embracing new technology, like I-pads, and smart phones.

“A Benefits Councilor also is on site to identify benefits and programs our clients are entitled to receive, states Anderson, this ultimately helping to lower the cost of supplemental Medicare plans, and make other economies.

Pumping Weights

Robert Rock, Director East Providence Senior Center, on Waterman Ave., provides all the typical exercise programs that Senior Centers offer. But through a $96,000 grant received from the U.S. Administration on Aging, his Senior Center now houses the only fitness center in the Ocean State.

“The [fitness] program promotes attitude change and development of appropriate exercise skills and reduces the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. It also improves the quality of life for our senior population,” Rock says.

According to Rock, a client can gain privileges to using the fitness room for a very minimal fee of $40 for single membership, $60 for couples. Equipment includes three treadmills, two recumbent bikes, an elliptical stepper, hand weights and six dual weight machines. Other features include a matted floor, mirrored walls, water, stereo, and cable TV.

Rock notes that 90 percent of the 258 people, mostly in their 60s, are taking advantage of this fitness center room, an attachment to the Senior Center. “They come to work out and then leave,” he says, noting that the oldest, a 91-year old man comes to work out three days a week.

Rock believes that once aging baby boomers come to us for the fitness room, they will choose to come back for other programs and services offered by his Senior Center.

Walking is also an important exercise, too, says Rock. Many clients take advantage of using the Senior Center’s half mile walking track.

Finally, Rock adds that the East Providence Senior Center is also a Rhode Island state-certified site for diabetes education. Both classes and individual counseling are offered.

In conclusion…

Starting in church basements, many as small social clubs, the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965, propelled Senior Centers into a key provider in the nation’s long term care continuum of care.

Today, 11,000 senior centers serve one million older adults every day. In Rhode Island, 47 agencies, serving 208,000 persons, are geographically spread out from Westerly to Woonsocket and from Foster to Tiverton. Some are managed by municipalities, others by nonprofit groups. While catering to serving the state’s burgeoning elderly population, some have expanded their mission to offer programs for young and middle age adults.

While the average age is age 75, many of Rhode Island’s Senior Centers are adjusting their programming and services to attract the state’s aging baby boomers by focusing on health and wellness, recreation and life long learning.

According to Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly
Affairs (DEA), over 14 percent of Rhode Island’s population is age 65 and over. By 2030, its projected to grow to over 21 percent. Rhode Island’s senior centers are a key provider to keep the aging baby boomers, healthy, independent and at home.

Yes, today’s Senior Centers are not your parent’s bingo hall, as some mistakenly believe. Why not visit your local senior center you may even be surprised with what you find. Call DEA for a complete listing of the state’s senior centers at 401/462-3000.

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