Importance of volunteerism, cuts in programs highlighted at roundtable
Mim Fallon is a member of the Happy Hoofers, a senior tap dance group that performs at local non-profit meetings and celebrations.
The group’s name and its possible confusion with “happy hookers” brought a smile to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Friday morning. He has seen the dancers in action.
But now he was listening to Fallon talk about an issue that is extremely important to her and the others gathered around a table in the Pilgrim Senior Center.
Fallon is also a mentor with the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, as well as being active at the senior center.
“Where would this country be if people didn’t volunteer?” she asked. The dancing, and being a mentor an hour a week for a school student who can use someone to look up to, is important to her.
“It makes a huge difference to be physically and mentally active,” she said.
Whitehouse said he has seen the “spirit of volunteerism” in elementary and middle schools and across people of all ages, including some members of the Happy Hoofers who are in their 90s.
He brought a good news, bad news message to what was billed as a “roundtable discussion” with Rhode Island seniors, state officials, senior center directors and staff and senior advocacy groups to discuss important policy issues under consideration in Washington.
The good news, he said, is the elimination of the linkage of cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, in Social Security payments to the cost price index, or CPI. He pointed out that the decline in the cost of technological devices, for example, has held down the CPI when in reality the cost of food, housing and utilities is going up.
“I fought hard to get rid of that,” he said.
Now he’s fighting to preserve $200 million for the Corporation for National Community Service’s (CNCS) Senior Corps programs, which he says would be eliminated by the House Republican budget. Of the national funding for the programs, Whitehouse said about $2 million goes to Rhode Island to run the Foster Parents and Retired Senior Volunteers Program, or RSVP. Both programs are basically volunteer programs through which seniors act as foster parents in school settings and assist non-profit organizations with a variety of projects. There are about 3,800 participants in the two Rhode Island programs.
Speaking with news reporters prior to the roundtable discussion, Whitehouse called the cut in funding “dumb and inhumane.” Speaking of House Republicans, he said, “They don’t get why this is a good idea.”
Catherine Taylor, Rhode Island’s director of Elderly Affairs, called the programs “structured opportunities for volunteers that is almost more important to the participants.” She noted that the programs give purpose to many elderly and keep them active, whereas if they didn’t have those activities they could be housebound and possibly become dependent on other services, such as nursing homes, that would be far more costly.
Also joining in the discussion were Meg Underwood, Pilgrim Senior Center director, and a cross section of state officials dealing with the elderly, including Kathleen Connell, state director of AARP, and John A. Pernorio, president of the Rhode Island Alliance of Retired Americans.
“I’m so pleased the CPI has been put to rest for the time being,” Connell said.
Pernorio called the Republican budget “an attack” on the middle class, the poor and seniors.