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story.lead_photo.caption Shea Wilson

When you hit 50, solicitations to join groups like AARP — the American Association of Retired People — start hitting the mailbox with increased frequency. We joined a few year’s ago when my husband hit the half-century mark to receive the organization’s publications and stay up on relevant issues. We also appreciate the advocacy aspects of the group, which supports services that some family and friends now receive — and that we will one day need.

Another thing about hitting certain age milestones, you start paying attention to public policies that impact seniors, like the Older Americans Act, and what your federal officials’ positions are on those policies. You pay attention to whether there is consistency between their promises and actions.

For example, presidential candidate Donald Trump pledged in debates and in campaign appearances that he would make no cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He even boasted on Twitter that he made the promise first, after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also among the GOP presidential primary candidates, made the same pledge.

“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me,” Trump said in a May 7, 2015, Twitter post.

Last month, we learned that his proposed 2020 budget does exactly what he promised he would not do. President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal cuts $84 billion from Medicare, $25 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance, and cuts Medicaid by $1.5 trillion. That amounts to a 5 percent cut in those types of programs in a record $4.7 trillion federal budget, according to advocacy groups. If passed, the cuts would be implemented over the next 10 years.

Additionally, the budget proposes to eliminate federal grants that help pay for programs under the OAA, such as Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance for the elderly poor.

The April AARP Bulletin included a special report on the OAA. That’s what brought my attention to this issue.

OAA was enacted in 1965 and provides essential services to older adults. It fills in the gaps around Medicare and Medicaid services. Each state receives OAA funds according to a formula based on the state’s older population numbers. OAA covers things like congregate meals served at group sites and home-delivered meals; family caregiver supports; supportive services such as home care, adult day services, and assisted transportation. So, the act supports keeping seniors in their homes. If the federal government cuts the amount allocated, states will have to pick up the extra costs, assuming they can afford it, but what if they can’t?

Market Watch reported recently that six out of 10 people in nursing homes receive Medicaid assistance. Think about how these cuts could impact services. Some of your parents and grandparents weren’t poor, but they may have already spent down all of their assets. If states don’t have enough money to pick up the tab, what will happen?

The current OAA funding runs out on Sept. 30. And the current funding has not kept up with the growing 60-plus population, according to AARP, which noted that 10,000 people a day turn 65.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, sees the problem. “The changing demographics of our country are such that we have to devote more resources, become more innovative and pay more attention to issues that affect older Americans,” she told AARP Bulletin.

If you are not paying attention to issues facing older Americans, I encourage you — regardless of age — to do so. The decisions federal officials make today will impact you or someone you love in the future.

Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. Email her at Follow her on @sheawilson7.

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