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How Congress’ intransigence harms seniors

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Washington’s no-limit poker game with the American economy as stakes ended when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, folded and allowed a vote in the House to reopen the government and avert a default by the federal government.

No pats on the back from me because they temporarily resolved only one of their manufactured crises. It simply buys time until we come to the brink once again in early January.

The manufactured crisis not addressed, of course, was the crippling sequester cuts that have eviscerated critical support for millions of Americans. While Congress was playing the sound-bite war on Capitol Hill, the lives of real Americans were being held hostage in the real world, not to mention the economy, which took a $24 billion hit.

Seniors had a lot to worry about with the potential default. Many were worried there would be a delay with their Social Security benefits. A three- to four-day delay on a paycheck for working individuals can typically be budgeted, but for seniors who rely solely on their benefits and live month to month, a day late can be a real problem.

The Social Security Administration notes that among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 23 percent of married couples and about 46 percent of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.

Being late on rent or bills could result in late charges or even an eviction. When living on such a tight budget, a $50 late fee could affect what prescriptions a senior is able to buy, how much electricity a senior is able to use to stay warm, or worse, skipping meals to make up for that lost income.

Beyond the concern for Social Security, many government resources seniors frequent for information and help were closed, including Section 8 housing and the Social Security Administration.

But all of this diverts attention from the ongoing impact of the sequester. Sequestration cut off more than 750,000 mothers and their infants who rely on WIC for nutrition. More than 100,000 children lost the chance to early childhood education through Head Start. Sme national parks, wildlife refuges and visitor programs were closed on public lands. These are just a few examples of what sequestration has done.

In San Diego, Senior Community Centers took a 10 percent cut to funding that puts 93,000 meals at-risk of not being provided to seniors living in poverty. We are working diligently to raise the money from the community to offset the cuts.

The problem with the sequester is that it does not discriminate between good investments of public dollars and bad. It obliterates everything.

Nutritious meals have proven very effective in keeping seniors out the emergency room, reducing hospital days and delaying or eliminating the need for long-term care. Investing in these meals saves the government millions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid expenses.

Regardless of what party you are aligned with, I hope we can all agree that our elected officials are not doing their jobs. It is time for them to step up to the plate and make difficult decisions for the greater good, not just for their political careers.

As Americans, we must take the responsibility to make our elected representatives do better. Ask them hard questions and remember the last few weeks when you next enter the voting booth.

In the meantime, call, write, email, tweet or post on Facebook pages of our congressional delegation and U.S. senators. Ask them to support seniors when they are planning the FY 2014 budget. Visit house.gov/representatives/find to find your representative and join us in sending an urgent note today.

Downey is president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to keeping San Diego seniors healthy and independent. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.

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