Apr 302013

After a week of reading about the effects of sequestration on air travelers—the inconvenience, the waits—we were struck by today’s [April 30, 2013] Huffington Post article on how sequestration is playing out on the lives of a more vulnerable group of people: America’s elders. When last we checked (around 3 pm, ET), more than 10,000 people had commented on the article, “Meals on Wheels Sequestration Cuts Taking Effect,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/29/meals-on-wheels-sequestration_n_3165256.html?view=screen

To be sure, disruptions in air travel disrupt people’s lives and, in some ways, impinge on their safety. But as the sequestration begins to take its toll on social services programs around the country, we all will start seeing its devastating effects on the lives, safety, and well-being of other groups: People less likely or able to speak up, speak out, and demand congressional responses.

As Huffington Post reports today, sequestration means that millions of Meals on Wheels meals will not be prepared or delivered—anywhere from 4 to 19 million, depending on who is making the estimate—nationwide. The article describes how one Meals on Wheels recipient, William McCormick, a resident of Roanoke, Virginia, is responding to news of cuts to the program on which he has relied since 2005: He has decided he can, somehow, get by on his own. Despite the fact that he lives with multiple chronic conditions, has no car, and lives on his own, he is convinced that he can somehow make do—which is more, he thinks, than others in his situation can manage. McCormick harkens to his own boyhood, when neighbors looked out for and helped neighbors who were down on their luck.

In years to come, we are likely to face this kind of dilemma more and more often. Our failure or inability to confront problems created by an aging society and a fragmented health care system mean that millions of us face a future in which we will rely on the kindness of our communities to keep us housed, clothed, and fed—and we have to be worried that neighborliness and charity will simply be insufficient.

We face so many problems—as individuals, and as a society. For the short-term (or short-sighted), it can sometimes just seem easier to focus on things that affect us directly: Don’t make ME late by delaying MY plane!  We really need to find ways to take a longer view—and one that is based on conscience and compassion. We cannot be a decent society and let frail older people go without food (or young children go without school, or any of the other social programs that are falling by the wayside).  Where are our priorities—and when will Congress hear them?

key words: sequestration, Meals on Wheels, Huffington Post, frail elders

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