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  • 20 Aug 2014

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My View: Seniors often need help making ends meet

If you were to believe most TV and print advertising, Americans in their 60s, 70s and beyond are all doing just fine, probably holding hands with a loved one as they walk their Labrador along the New England coast.

The financial reality for an increasing number of members of these generations is, in fact, rather grim and getting progressively worse. We are rapidly approaching the point whereby it is not enough to smugly tell these hundreds of thousands of seniors that they should have saved harder for retirement since, deep down, we all know that that is a luxury not afforded to everyone equally.

It is time to give these people some serious help.

I am a 79-year-old woman who moved to Beaverton about three years ago, basing that decision on the results of research I had done that led me to believe that Oregon was among the most senior-friendly states in the country.

Although that did prove to be the case, I have noticed a steady erosion of the benefits offered to seniors on a fixed income (food stamps have been slashed twice since November 2013, for example), resulting in the situation I currently find myself in: I barely make ends meet, money worries hound me constantly, and I am one small unexpected expense away from financial disaster; and I know other seniors that have it worse!

Everywhere I turn, I see services dwindle and expenses remain the same — or rise. Car insurance rates for seniors, once they hit a certain age and regardless of driving history, go up, resulting in many having to give up driving simply because they can’t afford the premiums. Health insurance plans now require co-payments where there once were none, resulting in less opportunity for the type of pre-emptive and early-detection tests that are crucial for reducing health care spending, as well as increased quality of life.

Compounding these health woes is the fact that I have so little money left over for food that the idea of being able to eat a balanced diet, never mind the ludicrous idea of indulging in organic fruit or vegetables, is a luxury I can rarely afford. I am in constant pain, but the copayments required for physical therapy are just beyond my means.

While I have been proactive about finding out about any services geared toward people in my situation, every time I manage to get through to someone at organizations such as HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose voucher system that so many lower-income seniors relied upon has apparently disappeared for good), I hear the same story: “We sympathize, but funding has been cut.”

Like many seniors, I feel that I have been discarded from mainstream America. I am looked upon as a liability because I am unable to do the things physically that I was once able to do.

It feels as though those in power regard senior services as among the first to be tapped when money is needed elsewhere, much the way many countries view the tax potential of tobacco and alcohol. Except in this instance, we are not talking about getting users to pay more for their luxuries or vices, we are asking generations of Americans to keep giving long after they should be expected to give, long after they are able to give. That’s wrong.

I want to do what I can to make people aware of this problem. I have contacted mayors and senators, and I am relying on papers such as this one to help raise awareness.

I realize that I am not the first to attempt to draw attention to people in my situation, but I feel desperate enough to make as loud a noise as I can in the hope that I can somehow help chip away at the prevailing attitudes toward the financial straits of many seniors in this country. Put simply: We need help.

Lillian Mills is a Beaverton resident.