Government Shutdown Hurts Seniors, Too

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 21, 2019

At press time, the federal government has been partially shut down for over 29 days because of Democrats and Republicans being at odds over President Trump’s ask for $5.7 billion to be included in continuing spending resolutions for the Oct. 1 start of the new federal fiscal year. Trump calls for billions of dollars to build a border wall along the 234 miles of the nation’s southern border.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 because Congress had not passed legislation, signed by the President, to fund nine federal departments, so these departments do not have funding to operate. The department’s include Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury.

During the partial government shutdown, Trump has so refused to retreat from his request for funding to build a wall. With strong Democratic opposition the political standoff has made this partial shutdown the longest one of its kind in the nation’s history. There have been 21 shutdowns since 1976.

Local media has widely reported that this shutdown has left 800,000 federal workers furloughed without pay, as well as those working in several federal agencies. But half of these employees are still working, being recalled but without being pay. But Trump has signed legislation this week to pay these employees retroactively once a funding bill is enacted.

What About Aging Programs and Services?

According to AARP’s Senior Writer Dena Bunis in a Jan. 18th web article, “Essential Services Stay in Place Despite Massive Federal Employee Furloughs,” the government shutdown does not impact major domestic programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but other programs and services for seniors are affected.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue operating and not be disrupted by the shutdown because these programs are funded by an advance appropriations and Social Security [ an earned benefit] is separately funded, says Bunis.

Bunis adds, even with the shutdown aging veterans will still have access to VA hospitals, medical centers and clinics because the Department of Veterans Affairs is funded.

Retirees will find many of the nation’s 400 national parks open but having limited services. Park rangers are furloughed and volunteers are stepping up to help where needed, says Bunis, noting that with employees not reporting for work, bathrooms and other facilities remain unattended with trash piling up and vandalism reports are increasing.

Although flights are not affected and air traffic controllers remain working, Transportation Security Administration’s airport security screeners are calling in sick in large numbers, increasing waiting times, notes Bunis. She says that Federal Aviation Administration has brought back thousands of safety inspectors and engineers to keep the planes in the air flying safely.

Seniors receiving SNAP (formerly called food stamps) from the USDA can expect getting their February benefits, says Bunis, but Meals on Wheels and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program food-box deliveries will be available through March.

Bunis notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has brought back nearly 150 furloughed employees without pay “to resume safety inspections on certain drugs, medical devices and high-risk foods, such as cheese, fruits and vegetables, and infant formula.”

The current government shutdown has closed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Those workers age 40 and over who file age discrimination claims may experience difficulties in applying and getting these claims processed, says Bunis.

USDA loans for low- and moderate-income Americans who live in rural areas have stopped because of the shutdown, says Bunis. “The Federal Housing Administration is not issuing the needed paperwork for reverse mortgages to get approved. More than 1,000 contracts between HUD and landlords who provide rental assistance to low-income tenants have expired, and hundreds more will expire in February,” she notes.

Meanwhile, USDA has recalled 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees to temporarily assist agricultural producers with existing farm loan payments to ensure they get the tax documents necessary to file their returns, says Bunis.

It’s tax season…Bunis says that although the Internal Revenue Service is affected by the shutdown because it is part of the Treasury Department, over 46,000 furloughed employees have been called back to work to process income-tax returns and refunds. Filing season officially begins on Jan. 28.

Casey Calls on Trump to Reopen Government

Last week, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, urged Trump to end the partial shutdown charging that the federal government’s closing jeopardizes the transportation, housing, and nutrition needs of older Americans and people with disabilities.

“I am particularly concerned about the adverse impact of the shutdown on seniors, people with disabilities and their families,” stated in Jan 15 correspondence to the President. Food assistance programs administered through the UDSA, rental assistance payments from HUD, transportation services through the Department of Transportation (DOT), and frauds and scams investigations and enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are all negatively impacted during the shutdown, said Casey.

“Elected and appointed officials in Washington have a sacred responsibility of ensuring seniors can age with dignity and people with disabilities can live independently. I request you direct the USDA, HUD, DOT, FTC and FCC to provide additional information to Congress on the steps they will take to mitigate the harmful impact this shutdown will have on seniors and people with disabilities. And, I urge you to reopen the government so that the health and financial security of our aging loved ones are no longer put in jeopardy,” Casey adds.

For a copy of Casey’s correspondence, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/press-releases/casey-to-trump-the-shutdown-hurts-seniors_.

CDC: Rhode Island Hit with Widespread Flu

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 6, 2018

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it’s a no brainer as to what issue I should cover this week. Being homebound for three or four days, with the flu, and my submittal deadline looming, I pen my commentary on widespread flu activity now being reported in Rhode Island.

CDC’s Influenza surveillance (ending Week 52) reported widespread influenza “flu” activity in 24 states including Rhode Island. This CDC warning recently triggered a requirement by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH} to require unvaccinated healthcare workers in a variety of health care settings to wear masks when entering a person’s room, serving food, or participating with patients in group activities.

The masking requirement helps protect healthcare workers from catching the flu, and helps protects patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH., in a statement released on January 2. “For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the single best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu. Getting vaccinated today will provide you with months of protection,” she says.

According to the RIDOH, typical flu symptoms include having a fever, coughing, a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

There are many types of illnesses or injuries even less severe cases of the flu do not require a visit to the emergency room, says RIDOH, noting that less severe cases of the flu will be treated more promptly by a primary care provider or in urgent care facilities. The department notes that going to an emergency room can oftentimes result in long waits because emergency room providers prioritize more serious injuries and medical conditions.

But, when do you seek out treatment for a nasty case of the flu? RIDOH says that difficulty in breathing or shortness in health, pain or pressure in the chest and having flu-like symptoms that improve and return with a fever and worse cough are clear warning signs to go immediately to an emergency room.

CDC expects that increased flu activity in the coming weeks, noting that the average duration of a flu season for the last five seasons has been 16 weeks, with a range of 11 weeks to 20 weeks. With significant flu still to come this season, CDC continues to recommend that anyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccine this season should get vaccinated now. It takes approximately two weeks for the protection provided by vaccination to begin.

Although 480,000 Rhode Islanders were vaccinated last year, RIDOH, says that the flu sent 1,390 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in 60 deaths (compared to 1,216 hospitalizations and 33 deaths the previous year. The state saw more flu activity during the 2017-2018 flu season than during any flu season since the 2019-2010 season, when the state experienced the state experienced the H1N1 flu pandemic.

It’s Not too Late to Get Vaccination

In kicking off Rhode Island’s annual flu vaccination campaign last October, RIDOH Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, said, “A flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself and the ones you love against the flu. When you get a flu shot you are not only protecting yourself, you are also protecting the people in your life by limiting the spread of the flu.”

So, if you have not been vaccinated, consider doing so. RIDOH recommends that children older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu. Others should, too., including health care workers, pregnant women, people over age 50, nursing facility residents and persons with chronic conditions (specifically heart, lung, or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems).

It’s easily to quickly get a flu shot because of its availability at doctors’ offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

In addition to getting a flu shot, here are a few simple tips that can help prevent you from getting the flu.

Wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day, using warm water and soap. If you do not have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand gel.

According to the CDC, the flu can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, by droplets made when a person cough, sneezes or talks. So, reduce spreading the flu, just by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or into a tissue.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or month because germs spread this way.

Get a good night’s sleep, be physically active and look for ways to manage your stress. Also, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Keep surfaces wiped down, especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children, by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.

Rhode Island Authors Reflect Their Publish Tomes and New Year’s Resolutions

Published in the Woonsocket Callon December 30, 2018

According to a YouGov, an internet company that conducts polls on politics, public affairs, products and brands, the most common New Year’s Resolution in 2018 was to eat healthier, get more exercise and to even save money. With New Year’s just days away, seven members of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA), give us their literary aspirations and self-improvement resolutions for 2019, many of them mirroring YouGov’s poll findings last year while sharing details about their published tomes.

Julien Ayotte, 77, of Cumberland, wrote “Code Name Lilly, a book about a young Belgian nurse becomes a key leader in the Comet Line escape network during World War II. Through clever and persuasive ways, she aids over 250 downed airmen escape the Germans.

Publisher: Kindle Digital Publishing. Price: $16 (soft cover. For details go to http://www.julienayotte.com

New Year’s Resolution: Improving my eating habits to maintain a healthier weight in the coming year and to keep moving. My philosophy has always been, “it’s harder to hit a moving target.” Walk at least a mile a day, and lift weights. Continued good health will allow me to write my 6th novel in 2019. And all I need to do to make Code Name Lily a blockbuster bestseller and major film by building my reader audience. My goal is still to write 10 books in 10 years, and I am halfway there.

Phyllis Calvey, 68, of Bellingham, Massachusetts, wrote “The Butterfly Club: Is That You?” One component of the book is the butterfly phenomenon; the intriguing fact that God has used the perfect timing of the appearance of this spiritual sign to comfort innumerable people after a loved one has died. But the signs are not only butterflies, or signs connected to a death experience. Each of the true-life stories in the book focuses on an incredible sign God used to communicate with someone. The Butterfly Club is for all who have experienced or would like to be inspired by a sign that is undoubtedly more than just a coincidence!

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform. Price: $10 (soft cover). For details, go to http://www.butterflyclubbook.com.

New Year Resolution: I believe it is the combination of nearing age 70 and having friends around me tragically dying of cancer that echoed these words of wisdom in my heart, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given”. It brought to mind when our two children were young. We made a difficult decision to put the television away which allowed us the time to joyfully discover the wondrous gifts that had truly been given to each of us! This year I am resurrecting the spirit of using the time given to focus on writing what I believe has been imparted to me. And hopefully that same discovered joy from years’ past will be found and kept all year!

Hank Ellis, 70, of Saunderstown, wrote “The Promise: A Perilous Journey.” One afternoon in late June, two adventurous, adolescent brothers stumble upon a huge mysterious cavern protected from the elements for centuries. Using dreams and deciphering riddles, they travel through underground passageways to meet a man named Eli. Through a series of strange and supernatural encounters, the two boys rely on resourcefulness, perseverance, and love to lead them to an opportunity they could never have imagined and make a decision that will change their lives forever.

Publisher: Archway Publishing. Price: $21.99 (soft cover); $39.99 (hard cover); $2.99 (e-book). For details, go to http://www.archwaypublishing.com

New Year’s Resolution: My biggest resolution is to finish writing my second book (sequel to The Promise). But with advancing age, and more important than any book, I want to pay more attention to the needs of those around me. At the same time, I want to simplify my life, eliminate clutter, and give things away. I am blessed.

Dr. Karen Petit, 67, of Cranston, wrote: “Banking on Dreams,” “Mayflower Dreams,” “Roger Williams in an Elevator,” “Unhidden Pilgrims,” and “Holidays Amaze.” Her five books have Christian content, historic elements, suspenseful action, dream/reality sections, romance, pictures, and methods of dealing with such problems as losing weight, fighting, quitting smoking, nightmares, writer’s block, anxiety, and separation.

Publisher: WestBow Press. Price: $11.95 to $24.95 (soft cover) depending on the book; $28.95 to $39.95 (hard cover) depending on the book; $3.95 (e-books for each book). For a specific listing of book prices and details on books, go to http://www.drkarenpetit.com/.

New Year’s Resolution: To lose weight by substitution and exercise. Because I love to munch on chocolate, I’ll substitute most of my chocolate items with low-calorie hard candy. I’ll also be substituting vegetables for half of my carbohydrates. After still enjoying a little bit of the sweetness of my favorite foods, I’ll be exercising while watching TV. Being healthier will mean a sweeter, longer life. In my book “Holidays Amaze,” the last two lines of my maze poem titled “A Maze of Choices for New Year’s Day” are: “A resolution opens new doorways / for new years of fun with amazing days.”

Steven Porter, 53, of Harmony and owner of Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Stillwater Books, wrote: “Confessions of the Meek and the Valiant,” a South Boston crime saga;” Mantises,” an adventure novel set against the mysterious history and legends of Block Island;” Scared to Death… Do it Anyway,” the story of Brian Beneduce and his lifelong work to overcome panic and anxiety attacks.

Publisher: Stillwater River Publications. Prices: $18 each (soft cover); $ 5.99 each (e-books). For more details go to http://www.stevenporter.com.

New year’s Resolution: My wife Dawn and I have been crazy-busy these past 12 months setting up our new bookstore. We’ve basically been working around the clock. Our New Year’s resolution is to simply find more time this year to relax and spend quality time at home. As 2019 approaches, Porter has three new books and a half written, and a fourth of shorter works and essays ready to go. “My resolution is to have at least two books finished and ready for the 2019 holiday season,” he says.

Richard T. Rook, of Wrentham, Massachusetts, wrote “Tiernan’s Wake.” The book is a historical mystery about a search for the “missing portrait” of the Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, but more importantly, it’s about how relationships and priorities change as we age.

Publisher: Lulu.com. Price: $15.97 (soft cover). For details go to http://www.amazon.com and search Tiernan’s Wake, or google Tiernan’s Wake.

New Year’s Resolution: Never to forget that the most important things in life are health, family and friends. If we have those, we don’t really need much else. To finish at least one sequel, listen more and talk less, and to keep my brain and body moving as much as possible.

Raymond A. Wolf, 76, of Hope, wrote a three-volume set, “Rhode Island Outhouses Today,” detailing exterior and interior color photographs of 469 outhouses discovered throughout the Ocean State, including details as when it was built and number of holes. A second five-volume set (cars from 1905 to 1949, the 1950’s, the 1960’s the 1970’s and trucks from 1921 to 1979) identifies over 1,100 cars and trucks photographed (in color) at Rhode Island cruise nights, car shows and private collections. Photo captions explain when the vehicle was purchase in or out of state, did the owner restore it or was it completely restored already, and identifies the owner, too.

Publisher: Wolf Publishing. Prices: $21.99 for each book (soft cover). For more details go to http://www.raywolfbooks.com.

New Year’s Resolution: Like previous years, his 2019 resolution is “never give up my dreams.”

The Association of Rhode Island Authors ARIA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization of local, published writers of both fiction and non-fiction committed to raising awareness of the outstanding written works crafted by writers in Rhode Island and other nearby communities. For details about ARIA’s 340 authors or to join the organization, go to http://www.riauthors.org.