May is Older Americans Month. It began in 1963 as “Senior Citizens Month” by proclamation of President John F. Kennedy. His proclamation half a century ago was not only an acknowledgment of seniors’ contributions to society, but an inspiring call to action:
“I urge all persons and public and private organizations to cooperate in its observance by increasing community awareness of the problems faced by older men and women, strengthening services and opportunities to meet their special needs… and making this special month the beginning of continuing interest and activity on their behalf.” – John F. Kennedy, April 18, 1963
At the time, approximately 33 percent of seniors in America lived in poverty. Today that figure is down closer to 10 percent, thanks in no small part to federal programs designed to buttress the financial and health security of older Americans, including Medicare and Medicaid – signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. LBJ also renamed Senior Citizens Month “Older Americans Month” that same year upon passage of the Older Americans Act. This legislation created new forms of federal assistance for seniors – including Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance. Every President since has issued proclamations honoring seniors during the month of May. President Trump is no exception. Today, the White House released a statement saying:
“We… recommit ourselves to ensuring that older Americans are not neglected or abused, receive the best healthcare available, live in suitable homes, have adequate income and economic opportunities, and enjoy freedom and independence in their golden years.” – White House proclamation, 5/8/17
These sentiments sound quite noble. But the Trump proclamation is an empty missive in light of the administration’s policies. National Committee President Max Richtman called out the President and his party in The Hill newspaper last week:
“May is Older Americans Month, but the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans are putting a serious damper on the celebration.” – Max Richtman, The Hill newspaper.
The Trump administration and its allies on Capitol Hill are engaged in a historic reversal of the promises of 54 years ago. In fact, not since President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005 have seniors’ programs been so much under siege. In a little more than 3 months in office, here is what the President and/or Republicans in Congress have done to undermine the economic and health security of older Americans:
*Passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which weakens Medicare, cuts $1 trillion from Medicaid, and makes private health insurance unaffordable for most older Americans.
*Created a budget plan which eliminates federal funding for Older Americans Act programs including Meals on Wheels, community service jobs, and home heating assistance, among others.
*Pledged to turn Medicare into a voucher program during the mark-up of the FY 2018 budget later this month.
*Introduced a House bill to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70 and slow the growth of Cost-of-Living adjustments (COLAs), effectively cutting benefits 30%.
Several of these break President Trump’s campaign promises “not to touch” Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Some in the administration and Congress have attempted to fudge the issue by saying that none of their policies will affect current retirees. But during this Older Americans Month, it’s wise to remember that all of us will be seniors some day. Attempts to cleave today’s and tomorrow’s seniors is a cynical ploy that cannot be allowed to undermine time-honored programs that have helped older Americans for decades. None of the actions of President Trump, his team, and his allies in Congress honor the spirit of Older Americans Month. Much more fitting are the words of President Obama last night as he accepted an honor named after the President who created Older Americans Month, the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage award.
“… It actually doesn’t take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential — but it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm.” – President Obama, 5/7/17
Seniors citizens are among society’s most vulnerable and infirm members. We must demand that our current elected leaders do much more than pay lip service to the ideals of Older Americans Month.