Recently in the Portland Press Herald, there was an excellent piece about Jim and Nancy Pike, two Maine senior citizens who are struggling to stay afloat on their social security benefits, which come to about $15,000 a year. Normally, I would feature this on Friday, the day I reserve for posting interesting links, but the couple’s story was so compelling, so much a sign of our times, that I thought it deserved a post all on its own.
According to Gillian Graham’s article, Jim and Nancy Pike, who are 65 and 77 respectively, have worked hard at various jobs. She had a child daycare in her home for 30 years. He cut wood, took care of other people’s properties, and drove a truck for Meals on Wheels. They grew their own vegetables, cooked their own meals, made their own bread, and raised a big family. Nancy “worked until she was 59 and was forced to stop after she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.” Jim’s last job was as a handyman at a motel, and between what he earned and what Nancy received from Social Security, they were able to make ends meet. But then Jim had a heart attack and a stroke, and he was unable to work.
So now they have joined the ranks of food insecure seniors. As Nancy puts it in the article, “We’re broke before the end of the month.” Because the Pikes are at the poverty line, they do qualify for $66 a month in food stamps and are eligible for other programs, including the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for low-income seniors. (The latter is a federal program.) The Pikes also go to their local food pantry. She clips coupons, they shop the sales, and they don’t buy processed food. They get by, but just barely.
Naturally, my heart goes out to the Pikes, who must live on such a small amount of money. But what really floors me is the cuts Congress made in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for low-income seniors. (Fortunately, the Pikes are still enrolled in this program.) In 2013, the program was reduced by nearly $5.2 million. This meant that 35 Mainers had to be cut from the program, and the year before 60 people were cut. Not surprisingly, there is a waiting list of 1,200 for this program.
How can Congress cut programs such as this? How can they justify reducing benefits to poor elders who are no longer able to work for a living? I would love to hear the explanations. On second thought, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe it would be such a load of bull that it would be hard to take.
One of the richest countries in the world can’t afford to support seniors who can no longer work? Really?
I don’t believe it. As the late, writer Tony Judt observed, “Ill Fares the Land.”