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Enraged Seniors Demand Restoration of Programs

New America Media, News Report, Video, Words: Viji Sundaram // Video: Michael Siv Posted: Oct 25, 2008

Editor's Note: San Francisco seniors organized to protest budget cuts by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that puts an end to over $300 in monthly funds. Viji Sundaram is the health editor and Michael Siv is a video producer for New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO Every year, Sister Elaine Jones looked forward to the $347 check tax-credit from the state sent to low-income seniors like her, who rent housing units.

With that money she would buy herself such necessities as a pair of shoes or a dress, items that her $926-a-month Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check rarely allowed her. This year, she said, I planned on using the tax rebate to buy me some shelves to store cans of food in my room, at the Raymond Hotel on Howard Street in San Francisco, a senior housing facility.

This is a streaming MP4 video - you'll need Quicktime 6 or later to view it.

Now, shell have to put that off because Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has cut $191 million from the Senior Citizens Renters and Property Owners Tax Assistance programs as a belt-tightening measure in the budget passed earlier this month. That put an end to the renters rebate checks.

In fact, the governor has slashed more than $500 million in programs affecting seniors and the disabled, including $12 million from the California Discount Prescription Drug Program, $13 million from the Department of Aging and $13 million from HIV/AIDS education.

About 70 seniors gathered in front of the California State Building here on Oct. 22 to protest the cuts and hoping to influence the Governor to reinstate many of those program at the special budget session set for some time next month.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano promised the protestors that he would do everything he could to reinstate the programs. These cuts are unacceptable, he said. If anything, there should be an increase.

Chants of Restore, Restore, Restore, Stop Stealing from the Poor, and Arnold, Arnold, Stop the Hate, Give Us Back Our Tax Rebate, filled the air, as protestors milled about in the hot sun, carrying signs and wearing labels on their T-shirts that read, Give Us Back Our Rent.

There are many of us who dont get more than $900 a month in SSI, said a speaker, who went by the name Mel. After spending on health care and rent, you dont have much left. Why did (Schwarzenegger) choose to hit a vulnerable population?

Christopher Dodenhoff, a resident of Elk Hotel, said he could have used this years rebate check to buy a much-needed blanket and a shower curtain.

For me, it is all about dignity, he asserted to applause.

An ombudsman program that investigates abuse of nursing home residents is another casualty of this years budget cuts.

Elder abuse complaints are stacking up, asserted Bobby Bogan, executive director of Seniors Organizing Seniors, one of a number of groups that planned the rally.

Because youre an old person, they think you count no more, Bogan said, adding: We might be in wheelchairs, but we aint dead yet.

Bill Kirkpatrick of New Leaf Outreach for Seniors lambasted the cuts in HIV education.

Im concerned about the insensitive budget cuts, he said. Seniors do have sex, contrary to what people believe. We need to educate seniors about HIV. Education for seniors is empowerment.

Seventy-seven-year-old Korea-born Dong H. Kim, a retired professor of Chinese philosophy, who lives in Raymond Hotel, said the kind of disrespect the governor is showing seniors would not have sat well in such countries as Korea, China or Japan, where respect for elders is embedded in the culture.

He quoted Confucius who said that a kingdoms character could be determined by how the elders in the land are treated.

If they eat meat and wear silk, then it can be assumed that the government is treating them well, Kim said, adding: Had Confucius been here today, he would have said, Shame on you Schwarzenegger.

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