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Weiss: Trump Budget Could Fray Nation’s Social Security Net, Hurt Seniors

Monday, June 05, 2017

 

Last month, President Donald Trump submitted his Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal to a GOP controlled Congress.  Critics of the Republican president and Democratic lawmakers called the 62-page budget proposal, “Dead on Arrival.”  Now, with Congressional recess over, look for the House and Senate to begin drafting their own fiscal blueprint.    

Massive Cuts to Entitlements and Discretionary Spending

Trump’s $4.1 trillion spending plan proposes historic, massive cuts by eliminating funding for 19 federal agencies to offset the cost of $54 billion to increase defense spending, to pay for infrastructure and the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the U.S., and to fund school voucher programs and a new paid leave initiative.  The Trump budget also slashed funding from the budgets of other executive departments and agencies as well. The Environment Protection Agency, the State Department and Agriculture Department took the biggest funding cuts. 

The core philosophy of Trump’s first full budget request, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” can be described as “Taxpayer First,” says Director Mick Mulvaney, of the Office of Management and Budgets.    

Mulvaney, a former Republican Congressman now serving as Trump’s budget director, told reporters one day before the release of Trump’s budget, “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes.”

We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help,” added Mulvaney.

Many aging advocates fear that Trump’s budget proposal will fray the nation’s social safety net forcing seniors to fall into poverty. 

With the release of the Trump Budget proposal, the Washington, DC-based AARP, representing over 38 million members was quick to issue this statement.  Executive Vice 

President Nancy LeaMond said “AARP opposes the budget proposed today because it explicitly harms the very people we are counting on the President to protect. Today’s budget proposes to cut Social Security benefits, as well as funding for critical health, hunger, housing, and transportation assistance to low and middle-income seniors. This budget sends a powerful message to older Americans and their families that their health and financial security is at risk.” 

 “We do want to acknowledge the Administration’s paid leave proposal.  Although it must be improved so that it addresses the workplace needs of all family caregivers, we hope that it leads to a national conversation about ways to support family caregivers in the workplace,” adds LeaMond.

The Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), believes Trump’s released budget proposal “literally leaves seniors in the cold.” 

“This heartless budget does not reflect true American values,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare in a statement.  “In our America, we do not cast seniors into the cold.  We do not take food out of their mouths or make it harder to get the healthcare they so desperately need.  In short, we do not cut off our most vulnerable citizens at the knees to pay for a massive tax break for the wealthy and big corporations.”

“This budget undermines the President’s promises to seniors.  It guts Medicaid, which he promised to protect. The cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), [a program that helps disabled beneficiaries to say at work or return to work] violates his pledge not to tamper with Social Security. It also casts into serious doubt his pledge as a candidate to defend Medicare.  No one who is serious about protecting these vital programs would propose a budget so harmful to seniors,” says Richtman.

Richtman says, “Make no mistake: the $64 billion in SSDI cuts are very real – and would cause real pain for Americans with severe disabilities.  These are people deemed by the Social Security Administration to be too disabled to work.  The qualification requirements are stringent, and the cases dire. Though SSDI helps younger Americans, too, most of its beneficiaries are 55 or over - meaning any cuts to the program will hit older Americans particularly hard.    In fact, an average 1 in 6 men on SSDI die within 5 years of claiming benefits.  For women, the figure is 1 in 7.”

Trump Budgetary Cuts Hurt Seniors, Poor 

According to NCPSSM’s Government Relations and Policy staff, Trump’s budget proposal would drastically slash or eliminate funding for programs that benefit America’s seniors. Here is a sampling of budgetary cuts they identified.  

Trump’s budgetary cuts of SSDI has an impact on older disabled persons.  It would limit the retroactivity of applications for disability benefits from 12 months to six months and denies unemployment compensation payments to certain SSDI beneficiaries. Finally, it unreasonably caps the amount of payable to individuals who receive SSDI while living with other Supplemental Security Income recipients.

The president’s budget proposal also slashes more than $600 billion from the Medicaid program, which undermines seniors’ access to long-term care.  It also eliminates the Community Services Block Grant ($715 million), the Community Development Block Grant ($3 billion) and the Social Service Block Grant ($1.7 billion) which helps fund some Meals-on-Wheels program, delivering hot meals to needy seniors.

Trump calls for eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which assists seniors with heating costs. LIHEAP received $3.39 billion in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget.  Of the 6.8 million household’s assistance, it is estimated that 2.26 million are over age 60.

Federal funding is also reduced for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $5.67 billion (including nearly $300 million for the National Institute on Aging), which will negatively impact research into cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases affecting older Americans.

With flat-line funding in the president’s budget proposal, we can expect longer waits at the local offices of Social Security Administration (SSA) and even extended waits when calling SSA’s telecommunication centers.  The agency has been critically underfunded since 2010 – reducing the quality of service to SSA beneficiaries.  This will continue.

Finally, Trump’s budget proposal eliminates funding for the Senior Corps programs, including the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions.  These programs enable older adults to remain act in their homes.

Rhode Island Lawmaker Gives His Two Cents

U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline notes, who serves as Co-Chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee “If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing Rhode Island seniors. This budget would cut Medicaid by up to $1.3 trillion over the next decade, jeopardizing health coverage that more than 18,000 Rhode Island seniors rely on to access high-quality affordable care.”

“Additionally, despite the President’s campaign promise not to touch Social Security, this budget carves out tens of billions in cuts to SSDI. That would have a devastating impact on SSDI recipients - most of whom are over the age of 55 – who have worked their entire lives and are physically unable to earn additional income,” says the Democratic lawmaker. 

Cicilline warns, “Trump’s proposal to slash $193 billion – over 25 percent of total funding - over a decade to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would undermine the health and well-being of more than 16,300 Rhode Island seniors who receive assistance for their basic food and nutrition needs every month.”

“This budget would eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income people, including thousands of seniors, pay their heating and cooling bills. It also eliminates the Social Services Block Grant and State Health Insurance Program, both of which provide critical federal support to help states meet the individualized needs of their seniors,” adds Cicilline. 

"Plain and simple, this is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class and millions of seniors who have worked hard and played by the rules for their entire lives. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first,” says Cicilline.

AARP, NCPSSM and aging advocates, now turn their attention to the House and Senate to keep Trump’s draconian budgetary vision out of the final FY 2018 budget. But, voters must also oppose huge cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security entitlement programs and discretionary funding for programs for older Americans at town meetings held by their Congressman and Senators.

Midterm elections will take place on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, All 435 seats in the House and 34 of the 100 senate will be up for grabs.  Maybe GOP lawmakers will craft a budget proposal that will benefit their constituents, not support their political party’s policy positions. 

 Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

 

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