Joco Opinion

Act offers dignity to our older Americans

Meals on Wheels, one of the services included in the 1965 Older Americans Act, sought to address with compassion both the aging population of low-income elderly, and the dignity those who live in that age demographic deserve.

When Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney refers to this and other programs that affect older, low- or fixed-income Americans as failing “to meet their objectives,” he shows blatant disregard for a social obligation that most Americans respect. Ignorance of what entitlement programs provide for our vulnerable elderly isn’t an excuse for eliminating those programs.

When Mulvaney says “a single mom in Detroit objects to her taxes supporting Meals on Wheels,” he is inventing a reality to support and promote his budget agenda. Everybody’s taxes go to programs that benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans. Using the “Detroit mom” example is this White House’s relegating programs like Meals on Wheels to layers of poor people fighting over available funding. Nothing works like the magic of making it look like the poor are doing this to themselves.

What a terrible excuse for cutting funding to the poor: Using fictional examples and attributing hierarchies to them; even claiming it’s “compassionate” to do so.

Most Meals on Wheels programs survive on donations, including from the recipients themselves. When my parents retired, they delivered meals. The corner church served as a base where volunteers drove up to the back door, loaded one or two ice chests, picked up their lists and started driving.

When our kids came along, they were attracted to this tradition. When we visited my parents in Tulsa at Thanksgiving, Sophie and Phoebe took turns running the food up to the door for the program. When the occupants saw them, huge smiles appeared. The food became incidental, as the seniors welcomed us into their home, usually asking for and receiving hugs and conversation from the kids.

From an early age, until my parents had to stop driving, my girls treasured those trips delivering Thanksgiving dinners. Once, we arrived at a house when a family was picking up their relative for the holiday. She asked my parents to donate her dinner to the next person on the list, because she didn’t want it to go to waste.

Meals on Wheels isn’t the only program in the Older Americans Act that’s important. When the act was first introduced, each title included in it promoted tools to ensure that people can stay in their homes, maintain healthy nutrition, remain part of their community, and be safe from elder abuse. Collectively, these titles were intended to save federal and state money by preventing institutionalization and other expensive measures for those who needed only this safety net to maintain a dignified and independent life.

In April 2016, President Obama signed into law the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act, S. 192. It was introduced by a bipartisan committee and is intended to improve the basic function of the original act. It will extend the act for three years.

This elderly demographic votes in higher numbers than any other, because they’ve been around long enough to see the outcome when voting is a priority. Since we are basically in line behind them, we should be voting in numbers now. Contact your representatives by phone and remind them that they work for us, and they will soon up for re-election.

Freelance columnist Ellen Murphy writes in this space on months with a fifth Wednesday