By Richard Sicchio
For over three decades, I worked for the Northern Area Agency on Aging. For 19 of those years, I served as its executive director. During that time, I was charged to oversee the operations of 22 county and seven Tribal aging offices.
The mission of the Northern Area Agency on Aging – and the other agencies on aging – was to assure that local aging offices were providing programs and services to older Americans to help them live fruitful and independent lives. Preventing premature institutionalization was one of the main goals of what was affectionately called the “Wisconsin Aging Network.” Treating older Americans with dignity and respect was at the forefront of The Aging Network.
One of my fondest accomplishments was heading a task force that was successful in gaining $1.2 million in state funding for the prevention and treatment of victims of elder abuse in Wisconsin.
One of the most disappointing things to aging advocates was that we were unable to get the federal government to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs. Things like insulin were priced astronomically, compared to many other countries. The best we could do was to organize busloads of seniors and take them across the border into Canada to purchase much-needed medications. Although we failed to put a dent into Big Pharma, I was proud of many of our accomplishments.
I was hoping that by the time I retired, older Americans would be in a better place than when I started doing advocacy for aging programs. I’m sad to say that I was wrong.
The older population is, right now, facing a clear and present threat: namely, the Republican Party’s anti-elder agenda. Right now, even as we speak, the Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee has proposed a plan that, if successful, would sunset all federal programs in five years — which would include Social Security and Medicare.
Millions of Wisconsin seniors, myself included, have spent long years paying into both of these much-needed programs that serve as a social safety net for much of the aging population. To rip them away is an absolutely abhorrent idea. It’s no surprise, however, when we consider that the Republican Party has long waged war against Social Security and Medicare.
Our own Senator Ron Johnson has been leading the charge by supporting the “anti-aging,” agenda. He has called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and lauded Rick Scott’s plan as a “positive thing.”
It’s hard to believe that anyone could view something this harmful as a “positive thing.” Senator Johnson, who is supposed to represent Wisconsinites of all ages, is just flatly wrong to be holding this point of view.
These attacks are especially notable given the near-universal support for these two pillars of retired living. A 2020 poll conducted by AARP showed that 90 percent of people across political parties support Social Security. Similarly, Medicare remains one of the most popular government-funded programs in the U.S.
It is clear the majority of the Republican Party does not factor the will of the people into their self-serving priorities. Good people across our state and the nation have faithfully paid into Medicare and Social Security and now rely on these programs to pay for life’s necessities including housing, food, transportation, and medical costs. Older Americans and disabled people rely on and need these programs.
If the Republicans get their way, older people will be hung out to dry. I’ve spent my entire professional career advocating for seniors everywhere. To say that I am concerned about this radical agenda is an understatement.
I’m so thankful to have leaders right now, like President Biden and Governor Evers, who are taking measurable steps to support seniors, both in Wisconsin and nationwide. Governor Evers signed a bill to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and established a task force on retirement security, which works to support people who are currently in or about to enter retirement.
Leadership matters – and most aging advocates agree that our hard-earned benefits are in better hands with Democrats at the helm. The stakes for the retired community both in Wisconsin and nationwide have never been higher.
Come November 2022, it’s essential that voters here and nationally vote to re-elect Democrats up and down the ballot. We especially need to send Senator Ron Johnson packing. Older Americans everywhere, myself included, depend on it.