Tag Archives: family

A Message to Hungry Seniors: Turn Off Fox News and the Shame of Accepting Benefits

Fox news off

I read a troubling statistic the other day that I couldn’t shake so I did some digging.

Only about one-third of senior citizens who are eligible for SNAP benefits (food stamps) are using the benefit.  I wondered why.  Don’t they know they’re eligible?  Are they daunted by the application process they believe they’ll have to go through?  Are they ashamed?

It seems all these factors come into play but the biggest one is that seniors report feeling ashamed of using these benefits.  After spending a lifetime supporting themselves, it’s simply too demeaning to accept help with buying food.  And to prop up those feelings of guilt and shame, we have Fox News.

Last year, Fox News aired The Great Food Stamp Binge in an effort to convince us that America’s SNAP recipients are taking advantage of the system.  True to the Fox brand, Bret Baier cited one of their Fox News Polls (I’m really not kidding) as proof, stating that  “57% of people feel food stamp recipients are taking advantage of the system and not truly in need.”   To further prove their facts (overkill considering that scientific poll of how their viewers felt) they featured a California beach bum who bragged about receiving $200 per month in food stamps.  (Fox doesn’t like to use the term SNAP benefits because it lacks the shame they feel should be attached to using benefit programs.  They’re working hard on changing that).

Baier followed Beach Bum to his specialty grocery where he used his SNAP benefit to buy lobster.  They went on to label this guy “the new face of food stamps” and spent most of remainder of this hard-hitting journalistic feat tailing Beach Bum to the surf, a barbecue with friends, and playing music with his band.  (There was no shortage of camera focus on a scantily clad woman dancing in the background, a famous Fox News staple).  They searched and searched for his shame but could find none in this stoner.  Aha!  This proved the other point they had set out to make.  That people on food stamps not only were lazy, they weren’t even ashamed about being lazy.

Using this beach bum to represent SNAP recipients is as ridiculous as using Fox News Reports as representations of journalism.

Actually, the new face of food stamp recipients happens to be workers of full time jobs who are not paid adequately to feed their families.  The new face also includes all those people who have lost jobs since our economic meltdown and remain un- or under- employed.  They include our elderly on fixed social security incomes, many of whom are also raising grandchildren.

Their story wasn’t meant to enlighten anyone.  It was pure agitprop, (now if that word’s not as handy as a pocket in a shirt…) aimed at conservative followers eager for fodder to defend their position that cutting benefit programs is good for the poor, good for our country, and really doesn’t hurt anyone.

One unfortunate effect this kind of propaganda leaves is that it keeps our SNAP eligible elderly from applying for benefits they need.

Fifty percent of Fox News viewers are over the age of 68.  They are the ones watching this dribble and also the ones hit the hardest by food insecurity.  Skipping meals might be just fine for many of us but for elderly people who tend to eat smaller meals and take multiple medications, it can be disastrous.  In addition to skipping meals, they are missing doses of medication and keeping their homes inadequately heated or cooled to make ends meet.

Let’s talk about who should really be feeling shame for taking from America.  Verizon, GE, and Boeing all paid zero, zilch, not-a-dime in income taxes between 2008 and 2011 even though they made billions of dollars in profits.  SHAME ON THEM!

In addition to these tax evaders, (or avoiders if evader sounds too harsh) there are all those wealthy corporations who pay their employees so poorly, they must rely on SNAP benefits to feed their families.  While McDonalds provides advice to their employees on where to sign up for government benefits, their CEO gets paid over $10 million per year.  Walmart behaves pretty much the same with low pay and benefit avoidance while their CEO is paid over $20 million.  When News Corp, owner of Fox News, avoided paying income taxes on their multi-billion dollar corporation, owner Rupert Murdoch was billed a tax code genius.  SHAME ON THEM!

Here’s the deal, seniors.  About feeling ashamed over food stamps; stop it!  About Fox News; turn it off and keep it off!   If you’re having trouble making ends meet, seek out the benefits that are available to you.  If you need these benefits, you deserve these benefits.  It’s as simple as that.

As for how to apply for benefits, AARP has a Public Benefits Guide for each state that can be accessed here.

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Put ‘The Conversation’ On Your Christmas List

In my last post, I wrote about The Conversation Project and introduced you to the first part of their free kit to help get you thinking and talking about end-of-life wishes with your loved ones.  Several nights ago, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Diane Sawyer discussing The Conversation Project on the ABC’s World News. (Just remember, you heard it here first). I don’t know that we could call this movement a groundswell yet, but it is certainly a wave of sorts, and one that is long overdue.  Being an ornery sort who has a hard time going with the flow, you won’t hear these words from me often.  Jump on this wave and ride it! 

Let me tell you why I feel so strongly about this.  When I was 29 years old, my brother Jack died.  He had left our home state to attend college when I was eleven.  Ten years later, I followed him to live in the same city in Kentucky.  Jack had a brilliant mind, was eight years my senior, and I adored him.  He was my go-to guy for direction, encouragement, and reassurance.  He was only 37 years old when he was diagnosed with a liver disease that killed him within weeks.  I didn’t know his condition was terminal until 3 days before his death.  During that time, I was confronted with decisions I was not prepared to make.  As specialists streamed in and out of his room, I was asked to decide about a liver transplant, whether I wanted him resuscitated when his breathing and heart stopped, and whether or not a priest should be called for last rites. It seemed there were decisions to be made with each caregiver that entered his room and I had to make them while I was still struggling to process the news that he was dying.  Then there were the phone calls I had to make to my family.  I was haunted by my sister’s screams and my mother’s pleas for a better outcome for years to come.  My family arrived on a Friday afternoon, in time for Jack’s passing the following morning.  We had a memorial service in Lexington for friends on Sunday.  The next morning, my family returned to Wisconsin with my brother’s body for a proper Catholic funeral and burial.  Naturally, I was devastated and spent the next several years gripped with sadness and the anxiety that accompanies overwhelming self-doubt.  The sadness I could understand and accept but the anxiety was totally baffling, frightening, and, at times, debilitating.

I had just survived my first year after losing Jack when I met Joe through some mutual friends.  He was drop-dead gorgeous and I was relieved to learn he was gay so I could relax and not act goofy around him.  We became fast friends, and then the bottom dropped from his life when he learned his partner of 8 years had AIDS and he himself was HIV positive.  This was the eighties and many people were terrified of AIDS.  Joe’s large circle of friends quickly dwindled.  His partner died two years later.  My friendship with Joe deepened as we saw one another through some tough losses.  He had become my new confidante.  Then, just 6 years after losing Jack, Joe’s AID’s related illnesses got the best of him.  I sat with him and held his hand when he died and my heart was broken.

I’m not seeking sympathy here.  These men immeasurably enriched my life and I feel grateful and fortunate to have known them both.  I want to contrast their deaths to demonstrate how an unplanned death can interfere with the survivor’s grief and ability to move forward.

My brother Jack and I never talked about what we wanted to happen if some devastating illness came our way.  We were too young to even consider having the discussion back then.  It simply wasn’t done.  But the decisions I had to make during his illness left me haunted with questions and doubts for years to come.  Why didn’t I notice sooner that he was ill?  Should I have pushed for more aggressive procedures to save him during that final week?  Did I do everything he would have wanted?  Did I call the right people to come?  Was the memorial service as he would have wanted?   Then there was the matter of settling his affairs, emptying out his apartment, and distributing his few prized possessions.  I spent months questioning and doubting my decisions while grappling with unsolicited advice from people who offered no practical help.  After a failed attempt to put it all behind me before properly grieving, I developed some debilitating anxiety.

In contrast, my friend Joe knew he was going to die.  There was no cocktail of medications like we have today for people who are HIV positive and death was the virus’ only remedy.  It was not Joe’s way to skirt issues.  He interviewed doctors and chose one who would treat him like a partner as they wove their way through the symptoms and remedies of opportunistic illnesses that were hallmarks of HIV at that time. He met challenges head on and he didn’t keep his thoughts to himself.  He talked to me about how he felt about dying.  I told him how much I would miss him and that I didn’t want him to go.  He wrote his will, planned his funeral, chose his music, and made a small list of invited guests.

I experienced a profound sadness after Joe died, this time, unaccompanied by anxiety.  It was a clean loss, unblemished by crazy-making doubts and second thoughts. I didn’t have to wonder if I had done the right things because those decisions were made by the only person who can know.  My sadness was just as deep but this time I was able to travel through my sad feelings freely, unhindered by doubts and guilt that plague unplanned deaths.

I don’t know that we can lose anyone we truly love and not experience some measure of guilt. Perhaps some guilt is inherent in all mourning simply because we can never be perfect for another.  But heavy guilt, laden with anxiety over decisions survivors should never be expected to make for another is not necessary.  A well-planned illness and death will provide your survivors with the freedom to miss you deeply and thoroughly and then move on.

Christmas is ten days away.  You’ll likely spend some time over the holidays with people who are by biology, by law, or by choice, your family.  Please do yourselves and your loved ones an enormous kindness and start a conversation about what you would want if you became seriously ill and how you wish your life to end.  You don’t have to have all the answers when you begin because hopefully, this will be the first of several conversations you’ll have between now and your ending time.  Talk.  Listen.  Then talk some more.  Just get those words out there for everyone to hear and consider and move around in the rooms of their mind.  If an uncomfortable family member suggests that this topic is too morbid for the holidays, gently remind him that none of us gets out of here alive, that death is a fact of life, and keep the conversation going.  Take the lead and guide your loved ones through those first baby steps.  One day, they will appreciate your guidance in beginning this journey to a good death.

Happy Thanksgiving – Grateful for Old People.

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In between fixing breakfast for my 10 year old daughter and searching the internet for anything newsworthy in the world of nursing home reform, I found myself feeling grateful for the blessing of loving old people. It’s not something I recall choosing. I’ve been like this since I was a kid.  Every so often, I’ll meet another person who shares this affinity.

“You love old people!  Me too!”  As we excitedly share our newfound commonality, we invariably learn that each of us has felt this way since we were kids.  So why and how did that happen?  I believe mine developed from close relationships I had with several old people when I was a child.

Uncle Matt lived next door to us, was the barber in our small town, and loved me unconditionally.  He was actually a great uncle, around the same age as my grandfather.   Uncle Matt’s barber shop was across the street from our house.  He didn’t give a second thought to stopping in the middle of a customer’s haircut to cross the street and walk me over so I could watch him from his second chair.  It was my job to sweep up after each cut.  My reward was a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum and a handful of warm shaving cream.

If you open a dictionary to find the definition of eccentric, you might find a photo of Uncle Matt’s wife, Alvina.  What a treasure.  She ran every minute of Uncle Matt’s free time and he followed her with a smile of content resignation.  “How ya perkin” with a slap to her hip was her typical greeting.  She needed little encouragement to take you in her arms to dance while she’d sing, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.”  I like to think I’ve adopted some of her eccentric ways.  At least that’s what I tell myself when people call me weird.

I recall our visits to a nursing home to see my great-grandmother, who had developed dementia.  During one visit, she clung to my mother’s arm and pleaded with us not to leave her.  She said they were taking her food away and hurting her.  I wouldn’t leave until my mother explained that “grape gramma” was confused and those things weren’t really happening.  I accepted that as fact but my experiences since that time leave me in a place of doubt.

I’m sure most kids have experiences with old people as they are growing up and don’t develop this affinity for them.  So why did I end up with this passion?   I don’t know.  What I do know is that I believe old people should be given the best of what we have to offer.  They should expect warmth, safety, and comfort.  They shouldn’t have to worry about where they’ll get their next meal.  They should be able to count on family, friends, and society’s conscience to help meet the needs they can no longer manage.  They should have a community that will rise up against anyone who hurts them and respond to any abuse with an iron fist.

We are far from where we need to be when it comes to caring for our old people.  Guardianship abuse, nursing home abuse, cuts to Meals on Wheels programs and threats to social security are just the tip of the iceberg. The needs are many.  We need to shore up our army of citizens who love old people and we need to make our voices heard.