Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 30, 1974 · Page 42
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June 30, 1974

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 42

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, June 30, 1974
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Page 42
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Elders' Lament: RAYMOND LANG, 70, ENJOYS LUNCH Some of the Elderly Are Eating Pet Food Sunday (ia/rHr-Mai! c tirrent ('.ha rlesto ri;~ tt es I \ i rtfi n ia ' ' ID -June 30. 1974 An Admired When Harrison Ash descended upon West Virginia he employed George Armstrong, now a Daily Mai! copyreader and music critic, as a press agent. In his capacity as a publicist of Ash's enterprises. Armstrong called on me. I was the city editor of the Gazette. On one occasion. Armstrong complained bitterly because 1 had declined to make use of news releases he had brought to me. Why wasn't I being more cooperative. Armstrong wanted to know". I told him I had an uneasy feeling about Ash's activities and didn't want to be put in the position of giving him aid and comfort. . Somebody. I said, might lose his life savings on account of a news story for which I was responsible. Armstrong returned directly to Fayette County, where Ash was living, and told his employer exactly what I had said: I was astonished, because conversations between'city editor and press agent, in ordinary circumstances, are presumed to be private. WELL, in a day or two. Ash. himself, stormed into the newsroom and marched ominously toward the desk behind which I cowered. He looked like a grossly overweight Keenan Wynn. Red-faced and angry, he demanded to know if I had actually said what his man Armstrong had reported that I had said. I was terrified. Ash was traveling in high circles those days. I had assumed that my chat with Armstrong was a confidential one. I croaked. I looked about for running room. Ash roared that his honor was at stake in the matter. I felt a spark of manhood become a tiny flame and was emboldened to respond. I was trapped, anyway. Very well 1 said, trying hard 'to look him in the eye. I said it. I couldn't very well deny it. I said it. and what about it? Surprisingly. Ash ceased to bluster and lapsed into a calm mono- logueabout everybody having a right to his own opinion. Mightily relieved. I seized the moment to look stern. Ash left without striking a blow. I had expected to be horsewhipped, at the least. It was my only victory over a Forceful Personality. I guess I owe thanks of a sort to George Armstrong. Among Harrison Ash's propositions was one to build boats in waterless Oak Hill, using materials salvaged from a boat-building plant that had gone broke on the shores of Lake Michigan. Despite this prima facie evidence of economic fantasy. West Virginians elbowed each other in their haste to put money into the Ash enterprises. Among them, it is my great pleasure to report, were shrewd and flinty-edged eyed bankers. WITHOUT any help from me Ash achieved a kind of sainthood. His name was whispered reverently among the capitalists who buy- up the notes of magic roofing compound salesman and otherwise cultivate dollars. It was agreed that Ash would bring unprecedented prosperity to West Virginia. When he drew a chalk outline of a boalon the floor of the Oak Hill boat factory, investors and lenders mafveled al the man's genius. Harrison Ash is doubtless pursuing some bold venture in some other place. If I could reach him I would lhank him for the hours of pleasure I have taken from his brief expedition into the West Virginia fastness. Little old ladies are always writing to ask me if there isn't someone I admire. I admire Harrison Ash. The Golden Years Are a Tragic Joke Social Security benefits for the retired have increased II per cent this year. Even no, thousands of senior citizens icith no other income find that inflation leaves them barely able to survive. Among the results: Fear among the old people and rising demands for a better life. By John Wheeler MILWAUKEE, Wis. - (AP) - After the first snow in her first winter in the small public housing apartment. Augusta Looney remembered sighing and thinking. VLbrd; thank you for taking the house." : · · * The;hduse was a modest two-story ·dwelling she and her husband. Candies, scrimped and saved to buy during their working years -- he as a baler in a rug factory, she as a hotel maid. It was the symbol of their success and the financial underpinning of their future retirement. The home had to be sold, however, to pay the-medical bills for her husband's last illnesses. He died of a stroke in 1969. "Why did'I thank the Lord that day? Well, it was because someone else had to worry about the shoveling." the 68-year- old widow said. To Mrs. Looney, snow meant $2 or $3 to hire someone to shovel her walk so she could reach the street. Before she moved, that cost came from her $168-a-month Social Security "check. Even such a minor expense could upset her budget. Mrs. Looney explained. Brushing back a wisp of iron-gray hair, she talked of the realities of budgeting in old age. A snowfall could mean no beef that week. Two snowfalls close together could mean dropping the odd chicken legs from her diet until the shoveling expense could be absorbed. FOR MANY THOUSANDS of elderly, a home of their own often becomes a financial millstone. Rising property taxes, a leaking roof, a broken furnace drive many elderly.on fixed incomes over the line into .;: insolvency. Statistics aren't kept, but gov- '·'.'·'., :. e'r.nmeht experts and lobbyists for the ;· aged say that thousands of retired persons .·""-" - . - · " find themselves forced each year to sell their homes. : / / - "It was hard to lose the house." Mrs. ; ; v i ' : kop.ney.sajd; "Itwas our dream; But there ^"v^'l^yal 1 *^^ the money from the government - "I'm too old to learn how to lie now" -- and stubbornly refused to follow her daughter's suggestions to spend down to the allowable maximum. "That money is for burying. I'm not going to any pauper's grave." she explains. THE DECISION HAS COST her not only federal SSI benefits but also supplemental retirement payments from the state of Wisconsin. For those dependent on Social Security. Wisconsin's program for the aged includes supplemental payments so that a single person receives at least $230 monthly. Wisconsin ranks high on the list of stales paying supplemental benefits to the aged. California ranks first. It has a $235 monthly pension minimum for a single person. While everyone with · "Jwiui Swin-itv they have to learn to live with poverty. 1 already knew. I never had much expectation about retirement." pension qualifies for Medicare, by paying .$6.70 monthly, only those getting SSI payments are eligible for Medicaid. a form ol welfare. Medicare on average has been covering only 44 per cent of the annual niedical bills for the aged, the Social Security Administration reports. Medicaid. at no cost, often covers the difference for the small percentage of retired people who qualify. "Illness is as much a part of old age as grandchildren." says William Hutton. executive director of the Washington-headquartered National Council of Senior Citizens. The 3.5-million member organization holds ihat government should pay all medical costs for everyone in retirement. It also is .campaigning to more than double minimum Social Security pensions. "The Golden Years. They are a tragic joke." says Al Hersh. who has passed retirement age but still works as director of Milwaukee's Project Involve, a publicly- financed, program to help the aged. ; .; ..^iifcfijrlhe. elderly: .is-all downhill-. The ,the husbands or.wives'go. the; FOR-MRS. LOONEY, $42 of her $168 monthly Social Security check pays the rent and utilities for a one-bedroom apartment in a building reserved for the aged. Another $9 covers the telephone, which she considers a necessity; a life preserver to call for help in case of disabling illness or accident. Once these fixed costs are out of the way. Mrs. Looney says she spends almost all the rest of her check on food. She manages in large measure because a government-financed lunch program is available in her building at 25 cents a lunch, five days a week. The federally-financed program might be curtailed or abolished because of budget cutting in Washington, officials here say. Mrs. Looney says the end of the program would be a major disaster for her and others on marginal incomes. As she sets her rocking chair moving in a patient, practiced rhythm. Mrs. Looney says that with the year-old lunch program and the recent increases in Social Security benefits, she manages almost well compared with those unable to get into subsidized public housing. For her building, there's a three-year wait. Clothes are not a problem. She refuses to accept money from her 51-year-old daughter. Lena, an only child, or Lena's husband. So they give her clothes, and Mrs. Looney keeps her pride. Her health? Aside from the broken arm and .the removal of a benign tumor, she has escaped hospitalization. She has diabetes, but the disease-is controled by drugs. Despite her tight budget. Mrs. Looney does, in her words, splurge each month when a Milwaukee restaurant offers a spe- .cial dinner tor the aged:- all-they can eat ' NO ILLUSIONS Mrs. Augusta Looney Never Expected Much .:,,,·'.·: No niatte.rhbw,well it's shoveled^there .'··-'' are r always;a feyviicy patches, between. home arid -supermarket. For the;brittlc .-'". boh.es' 'dftheagedv these arfe land mines. · A. slip'and fall can mean long months, of hospitalizatibn while broken bones knit, or permanent disability in a nursing home. "Who would get my food ifT-fe'll?'-' Mrs. Looney asks. She did fail once on an ice patch, and broke an arm. But it was some years ago. She was younger, and after a short hospitalization, she was back on her feet. The fear remains, however, that it might happen again. savings: go; . . moheyfi|iialways a little tighter'than it was . . . . » · last month:'The politicians make promis- ! ~?iF. FOOD AND ITS rising cost have bees, but 'the refrigerator is somehow al- C0 me a major subject of conversation in wavs a little barer. THERE ARE 15.2 MILLION men over 65 and women over 62 on Social Security. Many share Mrs. Looney's fears and threadbare existence. A White House Conference on the Aging estimated that an additional $65 billion annually is needed to increase retirement payments sufficiently so that all the elderly can live above the "poverty line" -- now considered by gov-' ernment experts about $3.000 .annual income. Currently, the Social Security Administration in Washington pays out $33 billion each year in benefits and welfare supple; rnents to the retired elderly. Many thousands of those men and women have no other source of income, although Social Security, when enacted in 1937. was. supposed to be only a "cushion" in old age. supplementing savings and other income. " . . . We have tried to give some measure of protection to the average citizen 3nd his family against the loss of job and against poverty-ridden old age." President Franklin D. Roosevelt said when he signed the Social Security law. Counting the 11 per cent increase in payments this year, the average single retired worker gets $181 monthly, the average retired couple $310. The maximum payment to single retirees this year is $304.90. the minimum $93.80. For couples, the maximum is $457.35, the minimum $140.70. "No, it's not enough for all their needs." a Social Security expert said. "But there isn't enough money to do any more." Law requires that Social Security old- age pensions be paid out of payroll taxes. The current maximum payroll deduction is $772.20 annually -- for some workers more than income taxes. In 1956. by comparison, the maximum employe deduction was $84. SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER Social Security benefits would have to come from general government revenues. The White House is opposed and Congress is divided on the issue. One argument is that Social Security retirement benefits have risen 390 per cent since the start of World War II while the cost of living has gone up only 240 per cent. Nevertheless, the strict concept of Social Security pensions has gone by the boards. The federal government is paying S2.7 billion annually to 1.85 million retired men and women who qualify for Supplemental Security Income, a form of welfare. To qualify for the SSI supplement, however, retirees cannot have homes worth more than $25.000. or liquid assets -- savings, insurance annuities, stocks and the like -- worth more than Si.500. Mrs. Looney does. After she sold her home and paid her husband's medical bills, a little over SI .500 iircash remained. She refused to conceal "During your working years you dream of retiring to a little home in Florida, away from the winters. Usually, it's a broken dream. Reality is poverty, alienation, fear, loneliness. The end is often a nursing home where perfectly alert oldsters can be mixed with the senile and worse to await the end together." Perhaps in self-defense, Mrs. Looney. like many senior citizens, maintains a style of bouncy optimism, a personal dignity that ignores empty refrigerators and faded clothing. Life, Mrs. Looney will tell you without prompting, is still good and sweet. Sustained by a religious conviction that the next life will be better, she even has some good words for the hardship she knew before retirement. "Things never were too good, so they are not too tough now. I don't eat much, and I don't need much. What hurts is the people who had it good (during their working years), some are sad. Sad. Illness and other things cost them everything. Now American homes/nowhere is the conver sation more intense than among the retired who spend more than 50 per cent of their pensions at the supermarket. When Mrs. Parilea S. Brp.wn, 69, and Mrs. Looney discussed the food dilemma recently. Mrs. Brown noted that the manager of her supermarket called the upsurge in shoplifting "a disease of our time." Perhaps because many of the elderly are threatened by so much, their pride has become something they defend fiercely. In interviews, stealing was described by many old people as far more than a crime -- a crumbling of self respect. Mrs. Brown recalled one retired woman who was caught. "Now she refuses to leave her apartment except to buy food. We all miss her. She eveadropped her club and church, she was so ashamed." Dog food. too. is a source of shame: Numerous oldsters said they know of people who use it. But they quickly added that they had not been forced to buy. it for themselves. After one group discussion of the subject, a 73-year-old woman tugged at a reporter's sleeve and said: "Don'I pay them loo much mind. son. They all cut it." And did she? "Of course n o t , " she snapped. "Didn't 1 just tell you so." SOME OF MILWAUKEE'S senior citizens are bitter about the 25-cent lunch program. Those who cannot get to the dining centers, for numerous reasons, claim they are being discriminated 'against-. Ray mond Lang. 70. who can^get to a'centw. explained just how important the ehe-ar.' noon meals were to him. "Sometimes they turned me away!because there wasn't enough food. With" prices up 1 , you see more and more people" turning out. so more and more have to be turned away. If I miss a meal. 1 always go home and have a piece of bread and a,,cup. of tea. It's not a disaster 10miss one riieal. If I do. I always have supper." /.-;· The retired storekeeper said supper usually is a cup of coffee and half ; a sandwich. Breakfast is also spartan -- w:!'i cereal, coffee, and "maybe a piece of toast. You know, with the price of bread, you have to count each slice." Increasingly, the elderly, considered in the past to be an.almost docile political; bloc, are talking about .exercising their- muscle against those they see as their Iocs; in Washington. In Milwaukee, many elder-' ly belong to the Gray Panthers, a national senior citizens organization trying to exert political pressure for more benefits. A woman with a large "Senior Power" button on her dark green dress looked up from her 25-cent ham and peas lunch and said: "Just let those folks in Washington try to take this away from us." I FOOD - THE BIGGEST OF THE BUDGET-BREAKERS This Milwaukee Center Provides Low-Cost Lunch SP

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