The author’s father, Cliff Adcock (R), readies to deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors in Escondido, CA
By Dan Adcock
At a press conference last year, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, infamously declared, “Meals on Wheels sounds great, [but] we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.” Not surprisingly, the first two budget proposals Mulvaney crafted for the president would have eliminated the block grants that help to pay for Meals on Wheels.
Apparently, Mulvaney has had no personal experience with delivering meals to seniors who are unable to shop or cook safely. Shortly after Mulvaney made his ill-informed statement, my boss, National Committee president Max Richtman, suggested that President Trump “ride with a Meals on Wheels van and witness the profound benefits to our nation’s most vulnerable seniors.”
I can proudly say that I have done something the President and his budget director clearly have not. This month, I rode along with my father, Cliff Adcock, on his route as a Meals on Wheels volunteer in Escondido, California. As a public policy wonk, I have always appreciated the Meals on Wheels program – first as a Congressional staffer on a committee that oversaw the Older Americans Act (which includes Meals on Wheels), then, as an advocate for seniors during the past 24 years. In 1992, I helped write the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which at the time enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. My recent ride-along taught me that understanding policy is one thing – but on-the-ground experience with the program is altogether different.
My dad (a longtime Republican) started driving for San Diego Meals on Wheels last year. He says he was inspired to sign up by my mother, Eleanor, volunteering at a local hospital. I rode along with Dad on his 38-mile route during a holiday visit in December – and more recently a few weeks ago while traveling on business. I loved both experiences because the seniors who answered my dad’s knock on their doors greeted us with huge smiles and ample gratitude – not only for bringing them lunch and/or dinner – but also for what may have been their only social interaction all day.
During the journey in my dad’s 2017 Toyota Prius, I learned that delivering meals to seniors – many of whom are shut-ins – is not always easy. While some live in the city of Escondido – others have homes in rural areas several miles outside of town. Access is also complicated by recipients’ various disabilities. In one rural trailer park, we delivered to a senior who is nearly deaf and unable to answer the door no matter how my times you knock or ring. We had to access a key from a lockbox in order to let ourselves inside and deliver her meals. My Dad and I didn’t encounter her in December but got to say hello when we made our delivery this Spring. She was very happy to see us.
Next, we were off to deliver meals to another house in an even more remote area. The recipient was a pleasant woman with a German accent. I told her that I spoke a bit of German and used my limited vocabulary to have a short conversation in her native language. She seemed tickled that I made the effort and thanked us for the meals.
Our last stop was a delivery to a Korean War veteran suffering from dementia. (My dad is a Korea veteran, too). Sometimes he arrives behind schedule at the vet’s house due to late additions to his itinerary. If the meal comes after lunchtime, the vet becomes irritable. Fortunately, we were on time when I rode along, and found the man in good spirits. His adult daughter was visiting that day and thanked us for bringing her father’s lunch.
At the end of our two-and-a-half hour run, we returned the food containers to the seniors center. I thanked my dad for letting me accompany him on his route. The ride-along re-affirmed my belief in a program that I had experienced as an advocate and policymaker, but never up close and in person. Seeing the seniors’ joy and gratitude for the sustenance and social contact we provided enhanced my appreciation of Meals on Wheels tenfold.
I wish every member of Congress, the President, and Mick Mulvaney would ride-along with the Meals on Wheels van before considering cutting a single penny from the program. Who knows? A hug from a grateful senior might just melt their hearts – or at least compel them to put away the budget axes they’ve been sharpening. In fact, if they’re ever in Southern California and would like to accompany my dad on his route, I’d be happy to arrange it.
Dan Adcock is Director of Government Policy and Research at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Anyone who has the opportunity to chat with Rep. Joe Kennedy III about Americans’ health and retirement security should jump at the chance. This week, we had the honor of interviewing him on Facebook Live from his office on Capitol Hill.
Now in his third term representing Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional district, Rep. Kennedy is much more than a member of one America’s most famous political families. (He is grandson of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, and grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy).
He is a thoughtful, persuasive policy expert on health care, and a champion of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He sits on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee – which has jurisdiction over federal healthcare programs, mental health, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Interviewed by National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, Rep. Kennedy affirmed his reputation as an eloquent advocate for America’s current and future retirees.
Rep. Kennedy wants to see greater access to Medicaid services, and higher reimbursements for doctors and other providers who currently don’t find it worthwhile to participate. He excoriates Republicans for demonstrating an “extraordinary level of cynicism” in trying to gut Medicaid by repealing Obamacare. After numerous GOP efforts to undermine Medicaid since President Trump took office, Rep. Kennedy insists the program is more popular than ever.
“The Republicans did something that Democrats have been trying to do for a long time, but couldn’t. They have made Medicaid popular. We’ve actually seen far more Americans understand the integrity, the importance of what Medicaid actually does, and how it forms a backbone of our health care infrastructure across the country.”
TRUMP/GOP TAX LAW
The Congressman is intensely critical of the tax law enacted by Republicans and signed by the President last December, which showers the wealthy and big corporations with tax breaks while blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the federal debt. Rep. Kennedy believes the gaping deficit caused by the tax law will invite deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
“This bill is going to bankrupt the United States of America. With the GOP leadership racking up deficits, those of us who care about the stability of these programs are going to have to do something to make sure that they are there for families when they need them.”
“[The Republicans’] long-term goal has always been to gut… these programs. We need to make sure American families understand: 1) How important these programs are; 2) What they actually do.”
The pending retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan notwithstanding, Rep. Kennedy remains concerned that the political right will continue to try to undermine Social Security and Medicare – by privatizing, cutting, and raising eligibility ages – even after Ryan departs the Hill. He argues that now is the time for awareness and vigilance to protect Americans’ earned benefits.
“No one gets rich off of Social Security. It’s something that you pay into your entire life to make sure that you can afford the basic necessities in retirement. That’s not something that should be targeted. That’s something that should be expanded so that we are preserving economic dignity for seniors in the golden years of life.”
“The education part of it is a critical first step: making sure American families understand just how important these programs are. They have paid into them during the course of their working lives and they should be able to depend on them as a foundation on which they can build their retirement.”
Watch Rep. Kennedy’s entire conversation with Max Richtman on Facebook Live here.
The Balanced Budget Amendment introduced by House Republicans went down to defeat Thursday night by a vote of 233-184, falling fall short of the 2/3 majority required to advance the measure to the Senate. The amendment’s demise was a relief for our nation’s seniors, because it threatened the earned benefits they have contributed to during their entire working lives. Seniors and their advocates can rightly take credit for the Balanced Budget Amendment’s defeat. The National Committee sent a letter to Congress on April 10th urging members to reject this ill-considered, dangerous change to our nation’s Constitution.
National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement in response to last night’s vote
“Social Security and Medicare were spared a terrible fate when House leadership was unable to pressure 2/3 of their colleagues to vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution. The BBA would have prevented Social Security and Medicare Part A from using trust fund reserves to pay benefits for millions of Americans – including retirement, disability, and hospitalization. The House members who voted against the BBA did the right thing today.” – Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
A balanced budget amendment would have blocked benefit payments from the Social Security and Medicare Part A trust funds since all federal expenditures, including these earned benefits, would have to be covered by revenue collected in the same year. It also would have required draconian spending cuts, inviting Congress to slash Medicare Parts B, C and D, Medicaid, and many other social safety net programs for seniors, while opening the door to massive new tax cuts.
While the balanced budget amendment did not dictate any particular approach to deficit reduction, by altering established Congressional voting procedures it would have increased the likelihood that the fiscal policies adopted in coming decades would favor the well-off at the expense of middle- and low-income Americans. The amendment would have require a two-thirds vote of the full membership of the House and Senate to raise taxes. Spending cuts, by contrast, would continue to require only a majority of those present and voting and could be passed on a voice vote.
Adding to these problems, the amendment would have heightened the risk of a federal government default by requiring a three-fifths vote of both the House and the Senate to raise the debt limit, rather than the current simple majority. Consider the scenario where budgets thought to be balanced at the start of a fiscal year fall out of balance during the year as a result of factors such as slower-than-expected economic growth or a natural disaster. If sizable deficits emerged with only part of the year remaining, Congress and the President may have been unable to agree on a package of budget cuts resulting in Congress being unable to raise the debt limit and allow a deficit. The President may have been bound, at the point at which the “government runs out of money,” to stop issuing checks.
The political right has hauled out spurious arguments to push a balanced budget amendment for years. (The last time the GOP tried to pass one was 2011). Among these canards: States balance their budgets, they say. Why can’t the federal government? Families balance their budgets? Why not Congress? We debunked these arguments in a recent article in this space:
While it’s true that some states have balanced budget amendments, many of those apply only to operating budgets, not capital expenditures for long-term projects. Regardless, states do not have the sweeping responsibilities of the federal government, including national defense, federal disaster response, and Social Security or Medicare. As for families, many do strive to balance their household budgets, but still carry mortgages on their homes, auto loans, and sometimes, lines of credit. In other words, like the federal government, states and families are leveraged to meet their vital needs. – Entitled to Know, 3/30/18
The National Committee supports responsible government budgeting. However, we oppose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it would significantly harm the economy, result in a government default and force severe cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital federal programs.
Will seniors and their families miss Paul Ryan in the U.S. Congress? Not a chance. His impending retirement lifts a dark cloud that has hung over older Americans – not to mention the poor, sick, and disabled – for nearly two decades. Speaker Ryan has spent his 11 terms on Capitol Hill fighting to enrich the wealthy and powerful, while undermining programs that serve as a lifeline for America’s most vulnerable citizens.
As America’s Privatizer-in-Chief, he spearheaded attempts to turn Medicare into a voucher program and to gamble retirees’ Social Security benefits on the whims of Wall Street. He passed legislation in the House to cut more than $1 trillion from Medicaid by imposing per capita caps and turning it into a block grant program. If the Senate had passed it, too, millions of low income Americans would have lost health coverage, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. At the end of last year, Speaker Ryan muscled-through the Trump/GOP tax giveaway to the rich and profitable corporations, inviting deep cuts to seniors’ earned benefits. “We’re going to have to get back next year  at entitlement reform,” he said last December, “which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.”
Here is a man who has been downright giddy while championing Scrooge-like policies from his powerful perch in Washington. In 2017, he gloated about gutting Medicaid in the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “This is why I’m so excited about it… We are de-federalizing an entitlement, block-granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate. That’s never been done before,” he told a conservative radio host. Ryan boasted at a National Review forum that he had been “dreaming” of cutting federal Medicaid funds “since you and I were drinking at a keg” – barely able to contain his glee about stripping health coverage from poor people.
Paul Ryan was never a traditional fiscal hawk in the mold of old school Republicans. His fondness for slashing the social safety net while cutting taxes for the rich wasn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. An acolyte of Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy of selfishness,’ Ryan’s disdain for the poor or anyone who relied on federal benefits to survive was deeply ideological.
“He… justified his agenda in moral terms, speaking frequently about ‘makers’ (i.e., people who work and earn good incomes) and ‘takers’ (i.e., lazy people who subsist on government assistance).” – Huffington Post, 4/11/18
At the same time, he was blatantly hypocritical, at least on Social Security. In 2005, he backed President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize the program and risk retirees’ payroll contributions on the stock market. It’s a position he continued to hold as presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 — and during his two-and-a-half years as Speaker. Yet the Speaker himself was a ‘taker’ when he collected Social Security survivor’s benefits after his father died when Ryan was 16. He saved up his Social Security checks to pay for college tuition, but somehow doesn’t see the irony in advocating policies that would compromise other Americans’ ability to collect their own earned benefits.
Like other ideologues, Ryan cloaked his attempts to undermine Social Security and Medicare as “preserving” or “saving” them for future generations. He repeatedly insisted that these programs were going “bankrupt,” when, in fact, there are common sense measures that could keep both trust funds solvent for decades to come – without cutting benefits or raising eligibility ages. But during Ryan’s Speakership, legislation to do just that never made it the floor, including bills from Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and others that would boost benefits while infusing Social Security with new revenue – or measures to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
Ryan tried to divide the generations by vowing that any “reforms” to earned benefits wouldn’t affect current retirees – only younger folks like him, ignoring the fact that stagnant wages make it impossible for today’s workers to save enough for retirement to make up for cuts in Social Security benefits.
Thanks to the vigilance of America’s seniors and their advocates, Ryan’s fight to gut the social safety net has fizzled – so far. But he remains as Speaker until the end of the 115th Congress and doesn’t wish to see his quest end in failure.
“Entitlement reform is the one thing, the one other great thing [besides tax cuts] that I spent most of my career working on,” said Ryan at the press conference announcing his retirement. “More work needs to be done [on] entitlements… and I’m going to keep fighting for that.”
Even if Ryan is unable to advance his “entitlement reform” agenda before he leaves Congress, there are other ideologues on the Hill (especially in the Freedom Caucus) who will be happy to take up the mantle. The best way for the poor, the elderly, the disabled and their families to protect and expand these crucial programs is to vote for candidates who champion Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We’ll have the chance this November.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has enthusiastically endorsedSenator Bill Nelson (D-FL) for re-election in November. The three-term Florida Senator will face Republican Governor Rick Scott, who announced his candidacy today.
“We need a fighter like Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate. He is a key ally for protecting and expanding programs that seniors in Florida – and across the nation – depend upon for basic health and financial security. When Senator Nelson talks about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he speaks from the heart. He is a true fighter for Floridians and older Americans everywhere.” – National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.
Senator Nelson has been a staunch advocate of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid since taking office in 2001. His voting record on these issues has consistently earned him a 100% rating from the National Committee. He fought President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security in 2005, pushed for the closure of the Medicare Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole,” and opposed converting Medicare into a voucher system and raising the program’s eligibility age. In 2017, he introduced a bill to prevent the federal government from garnishing Social Security benefits to pay off student loans.
Governor Scott’s positions on these issues stand in stark contrast to Senator Nelson’s. During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Scott advocated privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ health services. He appeared sympathetic to the idea of privatizing Social Security, as well. Last year, he endorsed the Republican plan to block-grant Medicaid, which could lead to huge funding cuts and reduced eligibility – or loss of coverage – for 4.3 million low income Floridians.
“Governor Scott’s record makes it clear that he is the wrong choice for Florida seniors. He has taken policy positions that would undermine Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are lifelines for older Americans.” – Max Richtman.
The National Committee endorsed Senator Nelson on behalf of its millions of members and supporters, including more than 108,000 Florida residents.
“You earned the endorsement of the National Committee because you understand and support the critical roles that Social Security and Medicare play in the retirement and health security of our nation’s older citizens and their families. Our nation needs your continued leadership, vision and determination to fight for working families and older Americans.” – NCPSSM Letter to Senator Nelson, 4/6/18
The National Committee praised the Senator’s “stalwart support” of efforts to ensure the solvency of the Social Security and Medicare Part A trust funds, to provide adequate funding to the Social Security Administration, and to establish a meaningful Medicare prescription program. His unflagging opposition to Social Security and Medicare privatization schemes is a matter of record.
In the endorsement letter, Richtman says National Committee members and supporters want Bill Nelson in the United States Senate to continue protecting and enhancing Social Security and Medicare – “the twin pillars necessary to a good quality of life for Americans of all ages.”
Read the National Committee’s endorsement letter here.