Can Our Nation Survive Trump and the GOP’s Control of Capitol Hill?

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 8, 2017

Almost two months ago when GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump trounced his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and his party took control of both chamber of Congress. Trump’s surprising victory stunned both voters and political commentators and pundits covering the heated presidential race. According to a November 16, 2016 Gallup Poll, 80 percent of Trump’s voters are “excited,” while 76 percent of Clinton’s voters say they are “afraid.” A large majority of the respondents (75 percent) shared one reaction: “surprise.”

Days after the tumultuous election, Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based the Brookings Institution, penned his thoughts about how president-elect Trump might govern the divided nation. His posting, “Four Scenarios for a Trump Presidency,” can be found on the Brooking’s FixGov blog, written on November 14, 2016.

Speculating on Trump’s White House Governance

In his 1,286 word blog, West, an American author, political scientist, pollical commentator who formerly taught political science at Brown University for 26 years, says that Trump might choose to govern as a traditional Republican endorsing tax cuts, deregulation and repealing Obamacare. Like other GOP politicians he would call for reinstituting law and order, fighting ISIS and other extremist militant groups, and controlling illegal immigration from coming into this country. “These typical GOP positions might resolve his philosophical differences on “entitlement reform and free trade,” says West, an author or co-author of 22 books.

Trump just might even turn over the reins of the presidency to Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, says West, these individuals “becoming the de facto prime minister.”

According to West, like president-elect Trump did during the presidential campaign, he might take on the role of a “popular rogue.” A “populist Trump could break conventional political rules and “attack the political establishment to represent the little guy,” notes West’s blog posting.

West also suggests that Trump might ultimately fail as president. After all he lost the popular vote by 2 percentage points or nearly three million votes and alienated women, millennials, minorities and immigrants with his insulting comments. Scandals and disclosures about his personal behavior and continuing concerns about serious financial conflicts of interest could derail his “honeymoon” phase at the beginning of his presidential term and negatively impact his popularity ratings, he says.

West also speculates in his blog that policy backlashes due to millions losing health care coverage by his push to repeal Obamacare, privatizing Medicare or gutting Social Security, a slow-down in the economy or even Trump’s continued liking of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might make him a one term president, like President Jimmy Carter.

Finally, public outcry and violent protest may turn Trump into an authoritarian leader. If this happens West expresses concerns smear campaigns (waged by White House Strategist Steve Bannon), the use of federal agencies to “attack adversaries” and the use of local police to “crack down” on protestors. “Firing top intelligence officials would suggest that Trump wants compliant people who will do his bidding against foreign and domestic adversaries,” he says.

Big Changes with the GOP in Charge

“It is a scary time in American politics,” says West, who expects to see big changes on Capitol Hill in 2017. The Brookings political pundit predicts that a Trump White House with a GOP controlled Congress will tackle large tax cuts, corporate tax reform, repealing Obamacare (but not having anything to replace it with), and reversing the Dodd Frank financial regulation bill. With the Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress he does not expect gridlock during the first six months of the 115th Congress.

West predicts that in the long-run many of the GOP president and Republican Congressional leadership policy initiatives will be problematic. “They are governing as if they have a clear mandate even though they lost the popular vote, he says.

West, like some political observers, expect many of the GOP’s conservative policy proposals to hurt the people who voted for Trump. The tax cuts go disproportionately to the top one percent and proposed changes in Medicare and Medicaid will limit medical care, he said.

“In a couple of years, the economy probably will be much weaker than it is today, which will undermine the very rationale of Trump’s candidacy,” says West, noting that if this happens the newly elected president could have a 30 percent job approval rating by 2018. “Of course, that is when he really will become dangerous! The risk is he may try things to improve his poll numbers, such as identifying scapegoats or confronting adversaries,” warns West.

“GOP Congressional leaders have plans to privatize Medicare and block grant Medicaid to the states. This will impose limitations on medical care and make it more difficulty for needy people to get the help they need,” adds West, who also sees Republicans moving to reduce home care and medical assistance to America’s elderly.

West sees the “GOP legislative initiatives as being very contentious politically, and will reinforce perceptions of the GOP as cold and heartless [to Americans].”

“Democrats will not be able to pass legislation. Their main power will be trying to block things they don’t like or stop nominations at confirmation hearings that they find problematic,” says West, noting that they will be put in a defensive posture. “They will seek to protect certain gains made during the Obama administration. However, Congressional Democratic leadership may well be able to work together on infrastructure investments,” he says.

West believes that Trump’s fix for the economy will not work. “In the longer-run, there is a risk that inflation will go up. Interest rates already have risen in anticipation of this,” he says.

“The market is expecting Trump to spend a lot of money and not be able to corral spending by the same amount. That will increase deficits and drive up inflation. It will be hard to blame this on Democrats since there has been low inflation for years now. It will be pretty obvious that GOP policies are responsible for the rate increases,” West adds.

Democrats Mobilize, Video Sends Message to Congress

As president-elect Trump’s inauguration approaches, President Obama traveled to Capitol Hill last week to urge Congressional Democrats to block the GOP president and the Republican Congressional leadership’s efforts to dismantle Obamacare, the outgoing president’s signature healthcare reform law and to fight their legislative policy initiatives. Behind closed doors Obama urged Democratic lawmakers to not “rescue” the Republicans by passing replacement measures. He suggested calling the GOP’s new plan, “Trumpcare,” to ensure that they are held responsible for any disruptions in health coverage. At press time there seems to be no GOP health care plan to consider.

After Obama’s meeting Democrats lawmakers have begun using the phrase, “Make America Sick Again, tying into Trump’s wildly recognized campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Hollywood is moving to block Trump’s policy initiatives. Almost a week ago documentarian Liz Garbus unveiled her one minute and 49 second video (#StandUpForUS), released by Humanity for Progress, to urge Congress to block any legislative initiatives pushed by Trump and his GOP allies that attack groups he marginalized during last year’s presidential campaign. Celebrities and activists lined up to participate in this video. They included Rosie Perez, Keegan-Michael Key, Tavi Gevinson, Lea Delaria, Sally Field, Steve Buscemi, Zoe Kazan, Jeffrey Wright, and Janet Mock, among others.

“The majority of Americans, regardless of who they voted for, did not vote for racism, for sexism, or for xenophobia. And yet Donald Trump won,” notes the video. At the end of the video, viewers are asked to email the video to members of Congress, as well as to sign a petition on http://www.MoveOn.org, to resist Trump and the GOP agenda,

Stay Tuned

The aftermath of the 2017 presidential election has politically split our nation. Although Trump won the Electoral College, Clinton, the former secretary of state, pulled in over 64 million votes. Even without a clear legislative mandate President-elect Trump and Republican Congressional leadership are moving at a quick pace to make major policy and systemic changes during the first 100 days of the 115th Congress. Democrats are now forced to play the loyal opposition for the next four years and fight against GOP policies rammed through the legislative process. Will GOP legislative fixes push American in the right direction? Or will the nation survive these changes? Stay tuned.

Housing Report Supports Push to Approve Question 7

Published in Woonsocket Call on October 30, 2016

Earlier this year, Rhode Island Housing (RIH) released a 44 -page report detailing the Ocean State’s current and future housing needs. One thing was clear to those attending this event: over the next decade the state will need more affordable housing for its residents.

Over the last 7 months, RIH’s Executive Director Barbara Fields has crisscrossed the Ocean State calling for increased housing opportunities for working Rhode Islanders. During this period of time she has presented the study’s findings to more than a dozen civic and government groups, including AARP Rhode Island, the Providence City Council and United Way.

During the last legislative session Rhode Island housing advocates were successful in their push for the enactment of a bond initiative that would make a significant state investment in affordable housing. As part of the omnibus statewide budget package, a $50 million Housing Opportunity Bond initiative for housing programs was passed by the House and Senate chambers, ultimately to be signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo (D) and put to voter approval on the November ballot.

With the November election fast approaching, Fields has not let her report, compiled by HousingWorks RI, a research program at Rogers Williams University, sit on a dusty shelf but is using it to push for passage of the housing bond initiatives.

RIH Releases its Comprehensive Housing Study

On April 6, Fields gathered with state housing advocacy groups at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to unveil RIH’s landmark housing study, Projecting Future Housing Needs. Fields warned that the state’s economic comeback must be tied to new and existing housing that stays within the financial reach of Rhode Islanders. “Today in Rhode Island, the demand for housing is high while the supply is much too low. This imbalance simply makes the cost of housing too expensive for what our residents earn. This report provides critical insight into what the future needs of Rhode Islanders will be and that information will allow us to develop a plan to address those needs,” she said.

At this event, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor tied adequate housing for working Rhode Islanders as key to bringing businesses to the Ocean State. “Companies looking to expand or relocate consider how well they will be able to retain and attract their workforce, and a key part of doing so is ensuring that employees of all income levels have high quality housing opportunities,” said Pryor. “It’s vital to our state’s economic success and our quality of life that we preserve and produce high quality housing options for our residents,” he added.

The RIH report’s findings indicate that Rhode Island’s population is projected to grow between 3 and 5 percent from 2015 to 2025. Researchers warn that new housing demand will outpace population growth, and anticipate a 12 to 13 percent increase in the number of households, driven by a growing population and simultaneous decline in household size tied to both lower birth rates and an aging population. Researchers also predict housing demand will be driven by a large population growth in two demographic groups that tend to have lower incomes – namely aging baby boomers and seniors and young millennials.

According to the RIH report, cost burden problems of paying rent do not just impact older Rhode Islanders and Millennials, but have become more mainstream issues over the last ten years and now affect all income brackets. The findings found that Rhode Islanders already pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and that more than half of the increase in cost burden from 2000 to 2012 impacted households earning more than $57,700.

From 2000 to 2014, the researchers found that the state’s total population grew marginally at 0.11 percent, but the number of households grew by 0.28 percent. Rhode Island’s smaller household sizes are due, in part, to a larger proportion of older persons and a smaller proportion of persons of color when compared to national rates. Younger households are likely to have more people than those headed by people aged 65 and older, primarily because they are more likely to be family households with children. As this demographic shift continues, the future population will need more housing units to meet the increased household need caused by smaller household sizes typical of older householders.

Pushing for Passage of Question 7

Like Fields, Chris Hunter, campaign manager for the Yes On 7 Campaign, sees the RIH report’s findings as crucial information that voters need to know about the impending housing crisis. “As Rhode Island Housing’s recent report shows, we’re simply not creating enough new housing to meet projected population growth. At the same time we’re facing an affordability crunch as our young workers just starting their careers, families, veterans, and seniors are having a difficult time paying for housing while also making ends meet,” says Hunter.

“That’s why Question 7 and the $50 million Housing Opportunity bond is such a smart investment in housing and Rhode Island’s economy,” says Hunter, stressing that if approved by the voters the $50 million bond initiative will leverage an additional $160 million in federal and private investments.

According to Hunter, if approved, $40 million of the bond dollars will be allocated to the construction of affordable homes and apartments across Rhode Island, while the remaining $10 million will be used to help cities and towns revitalize blighted and foreclosed properties. The bond will also fund the construction of 800 affordable homes and apartments across Rhode Island and create 1,700 good paying local construction jobs.

Over 60 percent of Rhode Island voters passed housing bond initiatives in put on the ballot in 2006 ($50 million) and 2012 ($25 million), says Hunter. “Funding from these last two affordable housing bonds created 1,943 affordable units in 30 communities around the state, and leveraged more than $300 million in federal and private investment in these projects,” he says.

RIH‘s housing report has sounded the alarm, giving a stark warning to local and state officials that a housing crisis exists and will only get worse with the shifting of the state’s demographics. With the election looming, RIH’s Fields continues to push for passage on Question 7. Hunter works to mobilize his housing advocates and supporters of Question 7 to get the word out to every voter in Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns that this bond initiative must be passed. Hopefully, their message will get across to Rhode Island voters. We’ll see when the votes are counted.

For more details on Question 7, visit http://www.yeson7ri.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

The First of the Generation Xers Starting (Gulp) to hit the Big 50

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 10, 2016

With the New Year’s celebration on January 1, the first of America’s 62 million Generation Xers are on AARP’s radar screen as potential members. These individuals have hit a demographic milestone, turning age 50 this year.  Now, it’s time for the generation that is following the Baby Boomers, to begin thinking about their later years and what resources they will need if they are thrust into the role of caregiver for their parents and grandparents.

Demographers says that Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) is the middle generation, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  “As they grow older, it is important to acknowledge that they are having a different experience than their cohorts, and that they are more than just an unsung demographic who wore parachute pants and acid wash jeans,” says a recent AARP press statement, announcing the first arrival of this generation into their fifth decade.

The First Vanguard of Gen Xer’s Turn 50

AARP notes in 2015, 4.4 million Gen Xers hit the big-5-0.  This year another 4.1 million are expected to join the ranks of Americans over age 50, notes AARP, predicting that this generation will take on the role of challenging “outdated perceptions of aging and empower people to take control of their futures”

“AARP is excited to welcome Generation X to the 50-plus community and be a resource for them as they embrace their age and live the life that they want,” said Sami Hassanyeh, AARP Chief Digital Officer. “They face different challenges and have different goals than their predecessors, and deserve every opportunity to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.”

According to the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization, Generation Xers carry far more fiscal responsibilities than previous generations have or even the next one, the Millennial Generation.  Now, in their 40s and 50s, this generation is financially supporting their children while being caregivers for their aging parents.  With life expectancy increasing Generation Xers must continue working to pay the bills, but like the aging baby boomers must rethink the concept of growing old and where they will put their time and energy in retirement.

“Though Generation Xers feel less financially secure than their parents in regards to retirement, they also plan to work longer and embrace new opportunities in this evolving life phase. Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, and many are already taking steps towards increasing their longevity – 87% consider themselves in good health and 55% maintain a healthy diet. They are re-imagining this life transition and expect their future years to be more flexible and rewarding than ever before,” says the AARP statement.

Key Generation Xer’s Metrics

AARP Research provides a snap shoot the Generation Xers (www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2015/generation-x-snapshots.html?cmp=RDRCT-GNXNST_DEC08_015).  As to diversity: sixty percent are white; 18 percent Hispanic/Latino; 12 percent are African and 7 percent Asian.  Most are married (64%) but one in five (19%) have never married.  Fifty percent of Generation Xers have children age 18 years or younger living at home while 67 percent of this generation have children of any age living at home.  This generation is well-educated with 35 percent receiving a Bachelor’s degree or higher (35%). Twenty seven percent have some college education.  The median income of this generation is $70,501.

Fifty six percent of this generation feels overwhelmed with financial burden (carrying an average debt of $111,000). Fifty five percent use the internet for on-line banking.

But, when thinking about retirement, 35 percent are confident they will have enough income to live the life they envision in retirement.  But, few Generation Xers are confident Medicare (34%) and Social Security (24%) will be available to them like it is for those currently receiving the retirement checks.

Looking at health, Generation Xers say that “the number one element for a good life is good health.”  They take responsibility for maintaining their health and well- being, too. Eighty six percent of this generation has health insurance.  Seventy two percent say that they trust their physicians the most for health information.

“From my perspective, this age group entering our membership demographic signals an opportunity for AARP to build our relevance in the lower end of the 50+ population,” said John Martin, Director of Communications at AARP Rhode Island. “When I meet these folks I get excited because more likely than not, they have been connected to the Internet for some time and are up to speed when it comes to technology and social media.

Time is on Their Side

“Generation X, the research shows, is quite forward-looking – as well as motivated — when it comes to working and living in one’s 50s with an eye toward health & fitness, retirement planning and having a say in making sure one’s community is heading in the right direction. The good news for Generation X, I would say, is that time is on their side. They can make changes during the final 15-20 years of their work life that will make everything after much better. So, when they embrace online resources and I can keep them current via email on issues relevant to the road ahead it is very exciting,” Martin added.

“I am pleasantly surprised when I meet people across Rhode Island who declare ‘now that I’m 50’ it’s time to join AARP. To me, what they are saying is that they get it,  that membership represents a transition that is all about fulfilling their aspirations and building confidence that they will live out their lives with independence and dignity.”

AARP is no longer the membership organization for just the Greatest Generation (1900 to 1924), the Silent Generation (1925 to 1944) and Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). It is fr Gen Xers (1965 to 1984), too, especially if they want to take control of the quality of life they will experience in their retirement years and beyond.

For more information about AARP, go to AARP.org.

 

 

 

 

Rhode Island General Assembly Seeks to Assist State’s Caregivers

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 14, 2015

With the graying of America’s population, the profile of the typical family caregiver has changed, says a new report released by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. The findings trouble aging advocates who warn that as care givers age they require more long term care support and community based care services.

Taking a Look at Today’s Caregiver

The report, “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” tells us that the “typical” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative, caregivers on the whole are becoming as diverse as America’s population.

According to the 81 page report, today’s family caregiver also provides unpaid care for at least 21 hours a week, and has been care giving for an average of 5-1/2 years.  These individuals expect to continue providing care to their loved ones for another 5 years. Nearly half of these higher-hour caregivers report high emotional stress (46 percent), too.

Men, often stereotyped as failing to take on caregiving responsibilities, currently represent a whopping 40 percent of family caregivers, also providing an average of 23 hours a week being a caregiver to their loved ones, adds the report.

The study’s data indicates that today nearly a quarter of the nation’s caregivers are millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 and they are equally likely to be male or female. On the other end of the spectrum, 75 and older caregivers are typically the sole support for their loved one, providing care without paid help or assistance from relatives and friends.

Meanwhile, caregivers, with an average household income of $45,700, tell the researchers that they are not only emotionally strained, but financial strained as well. These higher-hour older caregivers report difficulty in finding affordable care giving services, such as delivered meals, transportation, or in-home health services, in their community, for themselves and their loved ones.

The report also notes that “Caregivers of a close relative—like a spouse or a parent—who are likely to provide care for 21 hours or more, indicate that being noted as a family caregiver in the medical records of the care recipient would be helpful in managing their caregiving responsibilities.”

Finally, the study’s findings indicate that caregivers who live more than an hour away from their care recipient also report higher levels of financial strain (21 percent), perhaps because 4 out of 10 long-distance caregivers report the use of paid help (41 percent).

Report Calls for Supporting Caregiver Needs

As previous AARP research has shown, we’re facing a caregiving cliff,” said Dr. Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director, AARP Public Policy Institute; and chief strategist, Center to Champion Nursing in America. “By mid-century, there will be only three family caregivers available for each person requiring care. That means, to avoid putting them at higher risk as they age, we need to provide support for existing caregivers who are underserved by the current long-term services and support system.”

We’re especially concerned that not enough is being done to support family caregivers in the public or private sector as they age,” says Gail Gibson Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “There’s a double-edged sword when we fail to support caregivers, because we put both the caregiver and the care recipient at risk,” she warns.

Hunt observes, “Rhode Island is a unique state in that it has the highest percentage of persons over age 85. The data in this report speaks to some of the challenges of a graying population, particularly the needs of caregivers who are 75 or older.”

“We know from the data that the ‘typical’ caregiver over 75 is caring for a spouse or close relative, and spends about 34 hours a week providing care. This can be extremely challenging for an older person who may be managing their own mobility and health issues, as they help a loved one with basic needs like bathing or everyday tasks like grocery shopping,” said Hunt.

Hunt says, “Rhode Island has an opportunity to continue supporting older people and their caregivers, who are also growing older and need care.”

Lawmakers Posed to Pass Caregiver Law

           In June 4th, the Senate passed SB 481 A, the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record  and Enable) Act, to provide caregivers with timely information to allow them to provide post-discharge care.  The House Chamber passed its measure, HB 6150 Sub A on June 10th.  Both chambers must now approve the legislation from the opposite chamber.  If passed, they go to the Governor for approval.  This legislation will be invaluable to the state’s 148,000 caregivers who provided 142 million hours of care for loved ones.

“We are delighted that – upon the CARE Act becoming law – Rhode Island will join seven other states that  have enacted CARE Act legislation, with bills in three other states awaiting their respective Governor’s signatures,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell.

“Together, AARP worked with a strong coalition of stakeholders, as well as the House and Senate sponsors, Representative Eileen Naughton, and Senator Gayle Goldin, and the members of the House’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee and the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee,“ notes Connell.

“The passage of the CARE Act dovetails with the release of “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” which  presents a portrait of unpaid family caregivers today. It specifically addresses vulnerable groups of caregivers who face complex, high burden care situations. They tend to be older caregivers, who had no other option but to take on caregiving duties.” adds Connell.

Connell says, “It is sobering to conclude that in Rhode Island, with its above-average older population, we risk seeing more and more of old sick people caring for older sicker people. Clearly, that’s not a good thing and it needs addressing sooner than later.”

“One thing we noticed as the CARE Act made its way through the General Assembly was that a number of lawmakers shared their own personal caregiving stories. Some issues are harder to personally identify with than others, but when it comes to caregiving, it’s good to know we have this kind of attention. The report adds data and statistics that should help frame solutions,” says Connell.

 

Director Charles Fogarty, who oversees the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), sees the value of AARP’s report highlighting the “critical role” of caregivers taking care of their loved one.  “Family support is essential to allow seniors to stay in their own homes and live as independently as possible, he says, noting that federal funds allows DEA to administer respite and care giver support programs.

“As the baby boomer generation ages, DEA will continue to seek out resources that provide support to family members who care for their loved one,” says Fogarty.

The CARE Act can provide assistance to those tirelessly care for their aged or disabled loved ones.   Kudos for the Rhode Island General Assembly giving them the tools to do a better job.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.