My parents loved restaurants. I fondly recall as I was growing up how on Saturday nights my parents would delight in dressing up and venturing out to a restaurant—either a new find or an old favorite. It wasn’t much of a shock, then, when my dad abruptly quit his job after 35 years at the American Brass Company, sold what little property he owned, and went all in on the purchase of a beautiful continental restaurant called Armond’s.
My father unfortunately faced two huge and eventually fatal obstacles in his new venture. First, he knew nothing about the restaurant business and second, he purchased the place at the very beginning of a late 1960s recession, which caused a dramatic downturn in the restaurant business.
After nine long years of losing money, my dad sold his dream place at a nightmare price, permanently ensuring financial insecurity for my parents as they approached their “golden years.”
Years later, my mom suffered a massive stroke and we were forced to seek help at a local nursing home. Seeing her with half her body immobilized and her memory gone was one of the saddest experiences of my life. What little money my father had at that point was soon turned over to the nursing home and we were forced to rely on Medicaid since Medicare doesn’t cover nursing home care. Thank goodness for that assistance because the truth was that as much as we would have liked to have my mom come home, my dad could never have given her the care she needed. My mom lasted three and a half years in the nursing home and as sad as that was I don’t know what we would have done if the financial help wasn’t there.
The idea of millions of elderly patients being thrown out of nursing homes due to the lack of governmental assistance is a nightmare beyond comprehension. Yet that’s exactly what the new Republican (and Trump-backed) budget proposal would do.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a 49-page review of the new Republican plan and reading it made me literally sick. The measure would result in the loss of healthcare for 22 million Americans by 2026. The cruelest cuts would be absorbed by lower-income people between the ages of 50 and 64, including citizens suffering from chronic illnesses or battling addiction. In all, $772 billion formerly earmarked for needy Americans would, over the next decade, be siphoned instead into the pockets of the very wealthy. To understand the ramifications for seniors, it’s important to note that 42 percent of total Medicaid spending last year was dedicated to long-term care like nursing homes. These patients, like my mom, are the most vulnerable and most needy of all Americans and the thought that the services they so desperately need might be on the chopping block is a national disgrace.
The rationale for such a proposal is based on two underlying premises. The first is the long-held and false idea that any federal assistance program somehow robs the rich to lavish benefits on the poor. I can assure you that my mom’s care, although critical for her wellbeing, was not lavish by any stretch of the imagination. The second is the fulfillment of the unwritten political promise that the Grand Old Party will do whatever it can to protect and enhance the fortunes of the very wealthy. This new budgetary initiative does exactly that at the expense of people, many of whom will have their very lives placed in jeopardy, all in the name of a massive tax reduction for the very wealthy.
Imagining millions of infirmed elderly released from nursing homes and forced to return home or become homeless due to the lack of governmental assistance reminds me of an old Japanese legend entitled Ubasute (abandoning of old women). No one really knows if it is fact or fiction but, as the story goes, hundreds of years ago extremely hard economic times forced families in Japan to face an excruciating dilemma: what to do when seniors living at home became a “drain” on very limited resources?
As the legend goes, the elderly who were sick and weak would, in an effort to help their financially strapped family, voluntarily venture onto a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, to die, either by dehydration, starvation or exposure. There is a famous painting of a young man carrying his elderly mother, both with tears in their eyes, up a mountain’s path. During the journey, she stretches out her arms, catching the twigs and scattering them in their wake, so that her son will be able to find his way home. The painting inspired a famous Japanese poem:
In the depths of the mountains,
Who was it for the aged mother snapped
One twig after another?
Heedless of herself
She did so
For the sake of her son
I am not going to entertain the suggestion of the more ironical among us that perhaps we have discovered a new use for the much underutilized Trump Park in Yorktown. Instead, I implore you to keep in mind that we are a benevolent people. No tax break is worth a moral break with our longstanding commitment to those in need. The untold suffering, misery and even fatal consequences that these inhumane cuts will exact on the poorest of the poor should move the coldest among us. Write and call your congressional representative and implore them to take a stand for decency and humanity and vote against this mean-spirited bill. I know that’s what my parents would have done.
James Martorano served as Yorktown councilman from 1992 to 2011. He is currently a member of the Yorktown Board of Ethics. An attorney, he has worked for the Legal Aid Society for 40 years.