Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Congress

Senior Employment Training Needs to be Restored

An Open Letter to Members of Congress:

RE: Title V Cuts of the Older Americans Act

Dear Member of Congress:

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is proud to be one of the thousands of host sites in the United States providing skills upgrades to seniors as part of the Senior Employment Act (Title V of the Older Americans Act). We have been one of the host sites for over a decade. The seniors who participated in the program enhanced their computer skills, office administration, and all were able to develop a tremendous amount of knowledge on homelessness.

As you know, this program was strongly supported by the late Senator Kennedy. He nursed this program and saw it grow over the decades. It is shameful that upon his death the program was cut so drastically. The program was funded at $825.4 million in Fiscal Year 2010, and then cut to $449 million for Fiscal Year 2011—a 46% cut. Even using the pre-stimulus funded allocation of $691.9 million in 2009, there was a 35% cut in a time of a extreme need for additional government jobs to stimulate the economy. In a time of huge downturn when seniors are already struggling, we do not understand how cutting funds from seniors can be viewed as a positive.

These decisions have real impact on seniors across America. I wanted to give you some idea of how this is impacting our senior trainees. Our two current trainees had their hours cut by 20%. While these are small amounts for each individual, it could mean going without a prescription drug or electricity for a month. One of our members has had to delay serious dental care, because of the cut in his hours. Another of our members will not be able to replace his car that was recently stolen because of the cut in the program. This wonderful employment program supplements the income of seniors while they also refresh their skills.

We need someone to take up the gauntlet from Senator Kennedy and become the champion for this program. America’s seniors need someone to work to restore the funding for Title V of the Older Americans Act to allow seniors in training to get back to the 20 hours a week. The work sites, most of whom are non-profits, are overwhelmed with people in need, and we need all the help that we can get. The mature members need the money to be able to meet the increasing cost of living for food, heating, prescriptions, that is often not covered by their fixed incomes.

We would love to sit down to talk to you about this issue. This is an extremely valuable program for senior citizens in the United States. The program was working well with many thousands of examples of positive outcomes. We urge Congress to restore this program in order to help seniors to re-enter the workforce. This program follows the proven model for training in which the individual is reimbursed for their time while participating in a training program. Finally, the thousands of non-profits working on homeless, hunger, tenant issues, and other human services benefit from the seniors working for social change.

Brian Davis
Director of Community Organizing
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