I’ve recently experienced a depressing symmetry between negative events on a personal and public level.
It started just a couple of weeks ago with the news that two wonderful Fordham classmates of mine had passed away. Janet was one year behind me. She was always an upbeat cheerful person who made everyone in her presence feel better. She married fellow “Ram” Dennis and they lived in Verona, N.J. Last fall, she learned she had breast cancer. Tragically, she succumbed to her illness in only a matter of months.
Geri was another Fordham friend. She was a charismatic, dynamic, intelligent and fun-loving person. She raised a family, went into nursing and spent her life helping people. She livened up every room she ever entered. That is precisely why she was sorely missed at our last Fordham reunion. It turned out that she, too, had battled cancer, only to pass away this winter.
Aside from my former Fordham classmates, I lost several more friends. Candace was a fabulous assistant district attorney in Bronx County, with whom I had countless cases. She often partnered with me to fashion treatment alternatives for so many of my addicted clients, which saved their lives. She was compassionate, brilliant, hardworking and sincere. A year ago, she left the District Attorney’s Office for another public service position. Last week, she lost her life to breast cancer.
Loss can also feel sudden. Three weeks ago, my neighbor, Vinny, stopped by to chat as I was sitting on my porch with my dog, Sky. He told me about growing up in the Bronx and having the nickname, Skinny Vinny. He said he enjoyed baseball in his youth. I asked him if he had ever seen Joe DiMaggio play since he was the player my dad had idolized the most. He said he had. As we spoke, I could see his eyes light up as he relived his youth. He told me how wonderful it was to marry his sweetheart, Carolee, as a young man back in 1951. Their next anniversary would be their 66th and he commented on how much he was looking forward to it. He mentioned how proud he was to be a father and grandfather. After a half hour, he said he was getting tired. With that, he bent down, petted my dog and walked home. That was the last time I ever saw him.
On March 3, Skinny Vinny passed away. His lovely wife of 65-plus years, Carolee, had been hospitalized, but was able to attend the services. At the wake, her profound grief was evident in her eyes as she said to me, “It’s not supposed to be this way; he was supposed to take care of me.” A few weeks later, Carolee passed away as well from perhaps, some would say, of a broken heart.
The tragedies that life throws at us never stop coming. We can’t really do much about it. However, in the public sphere, we can make the journey of the less-fortunate a little easier. Our country certainly has tried to do exactly that up until now. However, President Trump’s proposed budget cuts have evinced a heartless abandonment of so many programs that have helped millions of needy recipients:
1) Meals on Wheels: About 2.5 million low-income seniors have benefited from this much-needed assistance.
2) Aid for college students: His budget eliminates the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which provides financial assistance for poor college students.
3) Heating assistance for low-income people: This program helps needy families with heating and cooling costs. Poor families often have to choose between “heat or eat.”
4) After-school and summer programs: These programs often provide snacks to children, which may be their only nourishment for the entire day.
5) Nutrition for pregnant and nursing women: The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children supports pregnant, postpartum and nursing women, and helps young children have their nutritional needs met.
6) Nutrition for kids in developing countries: These heartless cuts came just one week after it was announced that the world was facing the largest famine threat since 1945. The truth is that 10,000 people are dying each day from starvation.
7) Emergency food assistance: The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) provides a range of services including emergency food assistance through food banks and other community organizations.
8) Efforts to revitalize public housing: The objective here was to integrate families into communities through a holistic approach. The statistics demonstrated that it worked.
9) Legal services: If you are poor, securing civil legal representation is monetarily impossible. President Nixon established the funding for the Legal Services Corp., which has, for decades, admirably sought justice for the less fortunate. The Trump budget eliminates this funding entirely.
The Trump budget mercilessly cuts these and other much-needed programs in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy and the greatly increased (yet unnecessary) defense budget. If adopted, Trump’s budget will have an immediate negative impact on millions of the most vulnerable people both in our country and abroad. I can’t help but be reminded of Carolee’s words, which millions of the less fortunate could justly echo: “Tt’s not supposed to be this way, he was supposed to take care of me.”
I couldn’t agree more.