I had made up my mind to take a break from writing anything political this month — until, that is, the new administration’s budget came out. I find it impossible to “fiddle” while Rome is burning, so I picked up my pen (actually, I sat down at my keyboard). I was stunned, as should we all be, at many of the proposed cuts to our domestic programs, particularly those serving the neediest of our citizens, such as Meals on Wheels.
Having had the privilege of volunteering at the Ashland Senior Program for over a year, I’ve seen firsthand the tremendous importance of programs offering assistance to our low-income seniors. Daily, we get calls asking for help to pay utility bills, the cost of a warm meal, and availability of free bus passes. The people calling are not numbers to be crunched by some political hack or bean counter; they are just like you and me. They have names, faces and their own personal histories; they are veterans and retirees who have outlived their families or have no relatives nearby and often suffer from age-related health problems. Life becomes a frightening and confusing landscape to navigate when you are older, infirm, or without sufficient means. Many have worked hard their entire lives, but just can’t make ends meet on their Social Security checks and whatever small pensions they have, if they receive one.
On top of every desk at the Senior Center is a list of resources to offer those in need. One thing those asking for assistance always do, whether in person or on the phone, is to say “thank you” and to express how grateful they are that there is a “real person” there to help them.
Every weekday, without fail, dedicated (and unsung) Ashland volunteers arrive like clockwork to prepare and deliver warm meals to our homebound seniors. For some, this might be the only meal they will eat that day and the only social interaction they will enjoy. They are greeted by a caring person delivering a tray of food prepared specially for them.
The list of other invaluable programs on the federal chopping block is depressingly long, ranging from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, to the EPA and National Endowment for Arts, just to name a few. All the while, adding to our already bloated defense budget. Hyperbole and bombastic fear mongering aside, no amount of uniforms or weapons will save us from the dangers threatening our quality of life and domestic stability from within: hunger, poverty and ignorance.
Let us hope that by the time this is printed, either through political fall-out or a change of heart (here’s hoping), these egregious cuts will be rescinded. What kind of people sit around a table and decide to slash such programs — programs already largely staffed by volunteers and designed to assist our most needy and vulnerable? How can this be construed as “Making America Great Again”? For whom, I wonder, will it be so “great”?
Please tell me that compassion and generosity are not disposable commodities. I cannot believe that. The Americans I know, whatever their voting preferences, do care about their neighbors. It is easy to de-humanize this by referring to “budget cuts,” but the bottom line is not only about dollars; it also is about who we are as a people and as a nation. This slash-and-burn approach to social programs marginalizes our most vulnerable and crosses into new territory. Are we willing to stand by and let that happen?
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain).
This quote is taped to one of the cupboards over the kitchen counter where the Ashland Meals on Wheels lunches are prepared. The volunteers here see it every day, but they are not the ones who need the reminder. Sadly, there are many in Washington D.C. that apparently do.
— Award-winning author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at bit.ly/adtssmm. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.