By Emily Lock
President Donald Trump’s proposed 2017 budget envisions massive cuts to domestic services for his most loyal voting constituency: seniors.
Trump won the White House with the support of 53 percent of the senior vote. But, history shows, those who cut health benefits to older Americans tend to suffer at the polls in the next election. If the cuts are enacted, Trump risks alienating a large swath of his base.
Baby Boomers began turning 65 in 2011. Today, 3 million to 4 million Baby Boomers turn 65 every year; at that age two-thirds of the entire generation likely have one or more chronic diseases. Trump’s budget ignores that the U.S. population is increasingly made up of older persons, many of whom have low income and poor health.
Of course, the budget still has to make it through Congress.
What’s in Trump’s budget for seniors?
Even though Medicare and Social Security are exempt from Trump’s 2 percent cuts in domestic spending, the across the board slashing affects a host of other senior services, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Security Income program, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, the Senior Community Service Employment Program and the National Institute on Aging.
Medicaid’s budget would be reduced by a whopping $610 billion over 10 years. Such drastic decreases in funding would mean lower government subsidies for medical providers and would risk forcing many of those providers out of the program. Alternatively, the program could have to cut services or cover less people.
The Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) provides cash income to seniors and American living with disabilities. In 2015, about 8.3 million Americans received SSI. Almost 2.2 million of those recipients were 65 years old or older. Trump repeatedly promised throughout his campaign that he would not cut Social Security; his administration has defended these cuts, saying too many Americans qualified for the program who didn’t need it. Trump spokespeople have insisted that SSI is a less important Social Security benefit. “Do you really think that Social Security disability insurance in part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so,” Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director, said on CBS’s Face the Nation,
Trump’s budget envisions defunding the State Health Insurance Assistance Program entirely, which helps seniors to understand and decipher Medicare. Furthermore, he proposes to eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program entirely. That program helps older adults get jobs, specifically with non-profit organizations or local governments. Lastly, the National Institute on Aging’s budget would be cut by more than 20 percent.
What’s likely to happen?
Trump’s budget is unlikely to pass Congress as is, but House Republicans envision similar cuts and Senate Democrats have only limited power to block such sweeping changes. House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled their own budget with a slightly different agenda. The GOP intends to limit the benefits that Medicaid offers to wealthier seniors, as well as imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients who are able to work, according to CNBC. The House proposed limiting Social Security spending by ending payments to Americans who also collect unemployment insurance benefits.
Of course, if nothing is done, seniors still have to contend with the lingering effects of the sequester, across the board cuts enacted in 2013. “If [Democrats and Republicans in Congress] get to the end of the year and haven’t agreed on anything,” said Howard Gleckmann, journalist and author of Caring for Our Parents, “an automatic, across-the-board cut to all federal spending, that would happen in 2018 and that would result in significant cuts to senior service programs.”
As senior groups increasingly sound the alarm on the GOP budget cuts, Democrats see an opening. Republicans, after all, control both chambers of Congress and the White House. Dems have begun to aggressively court the senior vote. “We are talking about half the births in the United States, 30 million children, and half of all nursing home and long-term care nationwide for senior citizens and people with disabilities,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, said in defense of Medicaid.