Trump’s budget signals tough times ahead for seniors, children and people with disabilities

Some have called President Trump’s budget proposals shortsighted and potentially devastating when it comes to funding everything from scientific research to basic health care. Others have said the president’s budget recommendations for the next fiscal year present a pathway to disaster for the environment, women, children, the poor and the elderly.

While Republicans go about dismantling public safety net systems that were first put in place more than 80 years ago, and outnumbered Democrats resist the GOP-majority as best they can, in the middle of this war of ideologies sit senior citizens like 96-year-old Ruth McFarland and 68-year-old Linda Harrison.

Like millions of people across the country who depend on Social Security, Medicare and programs such as Meals on Wheels for their very survival, Harrison would have to be in a hospital while she recovers from surgery just to feed herself if Meals on Wheels did not exist.

She doesn’t agree with President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who said at a press conference in March that the proposed budget cuts were “compassionate” because the Trump administration is not going to use taxpayers’ money to fund programs they don’t think are effective.

“To me, this is nothing but political rhetoric,” Harrison said. “I am a taxpayer, too, and of course we all want our tax dollars to be well spent. But compassion is about helping those who are in need. … Where is the compassion in withholding these programs?”

‘SOLEMN RESPONSIBILITY’

As reporter Ann Brenoff writes in the Huffington Post, along with the loss of insurance premium protections that could result from the Republican-led repeal of the Affordable Care Act, several programs that directly affect seniors are earmarked for extinction.

Among them are a program aimed at reducing energy costs for low-income people, including seniors; a senior employment program; training programs for nurses working with seniors; section 8 subsidized housing programs for seniors; and Amtrak’s long distance service, with older travelers accounting for up to two-thirds of long-distance train riders, writes Brenoff.

Writes Howard Gleckman of Forbes magazine, “President Trump’s initial budget framework would slash programs for seniors and younger people with disabilities, especially those aiming to remain at home rather than move to a nursing home or other residential care. Combined with the House GOP’s proposed health plan, it may severely limit access to federally funded medical care, personal assistance, and other supports and services.”

The Trump fiscal plan leaves out key details, but, states Gleckman, “the message is clear: Frail elders and younger people with disabilities should not count on the federal government to provide them with anything close to current levels of services.”

In the eyes of area Democratic Congress members Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, that’s just wrong.

“We have a solemn responsibility to provide our senior citizens with a decent standard of living,” Schiff wrote in a statement to the Pasadena Weekly. Today, he explained, Medicare provides coverage to about 112,000 enrollees in Schiff’s district alone. Of California’s 5.4 million Social Security recipients, there are over 91,000 beneficiaries in the congressman’s district, which is based in Glendale and includes portions of western Pasadena. 

Chu, who also represents Pasadena, echoed Schiff’s sentiments.

Trump’s proposal to impose deep cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services “is not just cruel; it’s shortsighted,” Chu said in a prepared statement. “Meals on Wheels is an example of a program that saves the government money, since a senior unable to take care of themselves is likely to stay in the hospital longer or enter an assisted living facility. And what Trump and his administration fail to see is that for the price of one day in the hospital or one week in an assisted living facility for one person, Meals on Wheels can deliver food to 80 clients five days a week. This is why I want to use our budget to support programs like this, not turn our back on people who need help. It’s the morally and fiscally right thing to do.”

UNDERSTATED LOSS

The proposed budget cuts wouldn’t directly affect Pasadena Meals on Wheels because, unlike many of the 5,000 other such programs around the country, it doesn’t use any federal funding, said Patti Feldmeth, board president of Pasadena Meals on Wheels. Private contributions from individuals and grants from foundations and corporations assist in subsidizing the cost of the local program, she said.

According to HuffPo’s Brenoff, Trump’s proposed budget cuts $3 billion in Community Services Block Grants (CSBG) and $1.2 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), portions of which are used to subsidize other Meals on Wheels programs.

In the aggregate, according to Meals on Wheels America, 35 percent of the organization’s funding comes from the federal government, with state and local governments using portions of federal community block grants to augment the program’s funding.

Largely because of its many volunteers and private funding assistance, “This is the only program not at risk of being eliminated, no thanks to Trump’s budget, though,” Brenoff observed. “The grants that are being cut do help fund Meals on Wheels America, but aren’t its sole support.”

However, cuts would affect the programs if agencies that receive government funds have their budgets cut. If that happens, the meals programs would be forced to compete even more for private donations and grants.

“Some media outlets have incorrectly reported this number [regarding the amount of federal funding] to be 3 percent, confusing it with the federal funding received by Meals on Wheels America, the national membership organization that does not provide direct services (e.g., meals),” the national organization writes on its website. “This miscommunication dramatically understates the significant impact of any federal budget cuts that may affect Meals on Wheels.”

‘A GODSEND’

Harrison first heard about Meals on Wheels in 2000 when her sister-in-law told her about the organization after Harrison dislocated her elbow while walking her dog. Harrison was out of commission for a couple of months. She said she felt Meals on Wheels was a “life-saver” for helping her get through that injury.

“The reason we are ‘one nation’ is so we can take care of each other in times of need,” Harrison said. “I do my best to help others whenever I can. Now I’m the one in need of some help, and I appreciate organizations such as Meals on Wheels.”

Seventeen years after her first experience with the program, Harrison is back with Meals on Wheels while she awaits surgery for a hip replacement and is in too much pain to do certain tasks, including grocery shopping and cooking.

“The last two times I went grocery shopping I about did myself in. Even though I was riding around in the electric car, bringing the bags in the car and carrying those bags — it set me back like a day. I couldn’t do anything. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I know who could help me out with this.’ Again, it has been a godsend.”

Feldmeth gave a hypothetical example of somebody who was hospitalized and could not be discharged to go home if they didn’t have a way of getting food. She said people who don’t meet that criteria would have to be discharged to a rehabilitation facility until they could take care of themselves.

“The bottom line is that it is a real need in the community,” Feldmeth said. “Some seniors live on limited income, and they have physical challenges that prevent them from going shopping and being able to cook healthy meals for themselves.”

While people like Harrison depend on the program until they recover, others need it to avoid unnecessarily going to a retirement home, where they may never recover. Many of these people can still do things for themselves but need help with getting food, like McFarland.

“I don’t think I can hardly get along without it. I’d have to be in some kind of institution,” she said.

HAPPY HOME

McFarland lives by herself with her cat in a home she owns. A neighbor comes in every day and helps her with tasks like taking out the trash and cleaning the bathroom. She has a son who lives about 20 miles away and visits once a week.

“By providing healthier meals, we’re able to keep them healthier and happier and in their own homes for as long as possible and, in that way, they are saving tax dollars,” Feldmeth said.

Feldmeth estimates McFarland has been a client for about 10 years. She knows because she has been delivering McFarland’s route for 14 years.

“I wouldn’t be as happy without it; it means a lot,” McFarland said, “and people like [Feldmeth].”

While McFarland was eating, she noticed a purple Easter egg with jelly beans inside. Someone had donated candy-filled eggs to Pasadena Meals on Wheels so they could be included with the food deliveries. First graders from St. Philip the Apostle School sent cards as well, which Feldmeth said the school does for different holidays. McFarland accidentally received two cards instead of one.

“I can be in my own home,” she said. Framed photographs of her family and when she was younger cover almost every surface area of her living room. “I am happy here.”

“President Trump’s egregious budget proposal chooses walls and deportations over programs that are critical to the health, well-being and economic security of our nation’s elderly,” said Schiff, who is currently in the thick of investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election as the rangking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “We cannot and will not return to a time when our nation’s seniors lived without a social safety net to catch them in times of dire need.”