The U.S. House of Representatives' recent approval of the Ryan budget resolution threatens programs that help poor seniors. In a disappointing vote, 219 House members gave their blessing to a budget that leaves country's older adults to struggle with less food, income, housing and care. The Ryan budget's path to poverty must not be allowed to happen.
Supporters of this path are careful to avoid talking about the millions of Americans harmed by this vision. In fact, the budget targets millions of seniors living in poverty or struggling to make ends meet. People like Lucy Vaughan, 72, of Baltimore or Kenneth Carter, 65, of Welch, West Virginia whose stories feature prominently in the Kaiser Family Foundation's Older and Poor: America's Forgotten video.
As it is, the number of poor seniors will increase over the next decade. By cutting essential programs that often make life manageable for those with limited means or resources, the Ryan budget will lead to poverty numbers among seniors the nation hasn't seen since the Depression. Here's what the aging landscape looks like under the Ryan budget:
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is cut by $5 billion. The poorest two million seniors receive SSI payments often because they have been unable to earn much in their work lives or have a serious disability. Instead of cutting this essential income security program, SSI should be updated and allowed to meet its potential to lift all seniors out of poverty. Congress should pass the SSI Restoration Act and improve the program, not gut it.
Medicaid, which pays for almost two-thirds of the country's long-term care costs, is cut by $732 billion. This cut alone would seriously impact nearly nine million people 65 and over (and countless families), who rely on Medicaid to cover important health and long term care needs. The budget would also block grant the Medicaid program, a proposal that should set off alarm bells for seniors, their families and advocates. Block granting, code for Medicaid cuts, has a disproportionate impact on seniors who require long-term services and supports, because it loosens federal protections and would allow, maybe even encourage, states to target cutting services and eligibility for individuals who need the most care. We need to maintain or increase Medicaid's role in supporting our poor seniors and to ensure the federal government plays an important role in setting and enforcing standards in the program.
Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions that help many poor seniors to remain in their own homes, get preventative care, get improved chronic care and reduce their prescription drug costs are eliminated. Despite the overwhelming data that shows the ACA is working, the budget would signal an end to its progress. While opponents of the ACA have recently focused their attacks on the provisions of the program that increase the availability of affordable health care, eliminating the ACA would also impact poor seniors that already have coverage from Medicare and/or Medicaid. New help with Medicare prescription drug costs would be eliminated. Demonstrations designed to improve care coordination for seniors would be eliminated. New Medicare coverage for preventative services would be eliminated. Programs designed to encourage the provision of home and community based services would be eliminated. We should not repeal the ACA.
Funding for programs like Meals on Wheels, affordable senior housing, family caregiver support and disease prevention programs are reduced by 22%. While increasing defense spending by $483 billion, the funding for non-defense programs that keep poor seniorshealthy and in the community take a $791 billion hit. The demand for such programs is growing as the impact of the baby boom hits communities nationwide; we should commit to strengthening them now, not creating a crisis now and in the future.
The budget cuts food benefits by $137 billion over and above the $8 billion already enacted as part of the farm bill. As many as five million seniors at times cannot get adequate or nutritious food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has already been cut enough and is already hurting poor seniors who depend on the aid to not go hungry.
As a country, we should be united in trying to reduce the numbers of poor seniors, not increase them. The Ryan path devastates programs that now help millions of seniors stay out of poverty. It would tip the balance in the wrong direction for too many of our elders who struggle daily to make ends meet. The vision behind this budget should be rejected by not just policymakers, but all of us who care about the health, economic security, dignity and independence of this nation's older adults.