Recently, the White House has considered changing how the federal government calculates the poverty line by altering how inflation is measured. As a result, this change would potentially result in fewer people falling below the poverty line. While the idea of having fewer people in poverty sounds great, this proposal would actually cause a smaller number of people to qualify for badly needed government assistance.
The poverty line is critical because it’s used to determine if people are candidates for specific benefits associated with programs like Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Presently, individuals who make less than $12,490 a year are under the poverty line, which includes 4.7 million seniors.
Let’s take Medicare as an example. The administration’s change to the poverty line’s calculation would increase the costs of prescription drugs and premiums for low-income seniors. This would impact approximately 250,000 seniors who use prescription drugs and could force 150,000 elderly people to pay more than $1,000 for continued coverage for doctors’ visits.
Sadly, changing the poverty line calculation would also decrease the benefits for older Americans associated with Medicaid. At the moment, millions of adults have qualified for Medicaid expansion through the ACA, including older adults between 50 and 65. Under the administration’s proposal, changing how inflation is measured for the poverty line would cause 250,000 people to lose their Medicaid expansion coverage over a 10-year period.
Unfortunately, the negative impact of changing the poverty line calculation does not stop with healthcare. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps people in this country with their energy bills, like those for heat and air conditioning. According to a 2018 survey by the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, seniors are in 46 percent of households that receive LIHEAP. Are we really suggesting cutting benefits from low-income seniors who need help with their energy bills, especially in states with extreme weather like Florida and Minnesota?
When Congress passed tax cut legislation in 2017, B’nai B’rith argued that ballooning deficits could cause lawmakers to campaign for cuts to important social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Our press release from December 2017 stated, “Perhaps the biggest danger this Congressional tax plan includes is the likelihood of future cuts to critical federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to help pay down what most economists say will be a massive increase in the deficit that will result from these tax cuts. Experts predict that the ensuing revenue short-fall would have to be made up by drastic cuts to programs fundamental to seniors in need.”
So here we are! The U.S. budget deficit ballooned to $738.6 billion during the first eight months of the 2019 fiscal year, and, as we predicted, proposals have been rolled out that cut benefits from older Americans.
Seniors living below the poverty line are not likely to gain full-time employment to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Consequently, I hope the administration rethinks this policy so our country can help meet the challenges faced every day by older Americans.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has just published a report “Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Venezuela.”
The report addresses the human rights situation in Venezuela by analyzing the impact that the weakening of the country’s democratic institutions has had on those rights. This report is organized around four main areas of focus, which correspond to the IACHR’s core concerns with respect to Venezuela: democratic institutions; social protest and freedom of expression; violence and citizen security; and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.
It also includes a cross-cutting analysis of the specific harm done to individuals, groups and communities that are at greater risk and are victims of of historical discrimination and exclusion. These include women, children and adolescents, older persons, human rights defenders, persons deprived of liberty and migrants, refugees, or those in a similar situation, among others.
The IACHR report reveals severe restrictions to freedom of expression in Venezuela through censorship of media outlets, attacks on journalists, the criminalization of dissident opinions or of those who disseminate information contrary to government officials’ versions and the punishment of whose who spread what are considered hate messages on the internet. The report also examines the excessive use of firearms and tear-gas bombs against demonstrators, as well as the participation of members of the armed forces in controlling demonstrations.
The Commission expresses its strongest possible rejection of the harsh measures taken by the state in response to social protests, which left hundreds of people dead; thousands arbitrarily detained; allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence perpetrated by state agents; and people unjustly tried on criminal charges in military courts.
Compounding the critical situation of democracy and political rights is a socioeconomic crisis characterized by widespread shortages of food, medicine, and medical treatment, materials and supplies. The rights to education and housing have also been seriously impaired. The rates of poverty and extreme poverty in Venezuela are alarming, as are the serious impediments to the exercise of people’s economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, especially for groups that have traditionally faced exclusion and discrimination.
Are there enough reactions before such a tragedy?
The Peruvian government, backed by 17 Latin American countries, has decided to ask Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not to attend the Summit of the Americas in April (Peru will host it). Maduro challenged the resolution and threatened to attend “at any cost.”
Elected Chilean President Sebastian Piñera asked Maduro not to attend his inauguration because “he is not welcomed in Chile” (Piñera will take office on March 11).
The overwhelming report of the IACHR, the rejection of 17 countries to the Venezuelan dictatorship, the sanctions determined by the United States and the European Union against Venezuelan officials and economic sanctions too, nothing is enough to relieve the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
Venezuela’s close relation with Iran and Russia essentially protects the dictatorship. Almost 10 percent of the population has fled from the country, mostly to neighboring countries in South America and also to the United States. But proxies and indifference let the tragedy of Venezuela move forward.
Anti-Semitism is not forgotten in the official policies of the Venezuelan regime. A few days ago, Maduro announced that “he has ordered his envoys before U.N. to report the xenophobic campaign against Venezuela in different countries all over the world,” and also “Such campaigns are similar than those made by the Nazis against the Jews.”
It is not the first time that Maduro trivializes the tragedy of the Shoah. Some months ago he also said that “Venezuela is being attacked as Jews were attacked by the Nazis. We are the Jews of the 21stcentury,” he added.
This brutal way of banalizing the Shoah is not the only attack Maduro has recently made against Jews and Israel.
When the United States decided to announce the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem, Maduro made a speech before the Non-Aligned Movement and said that the U.S. decision is “a provocation and a declaration of war against the entire Muslim world, against the good people, one more in decades of ongoing aggression against our beloved historical Palestinian people.”
Several tragedies in history have been possible due to indifference, among other reasons. But indifference is very strong. We can watch it in the Syrian tragedy today. And we can also watch it in Venezuela.
If rogue governments which support those tragedies overcome indifference, hope is very little. So far, indifference prevails.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
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