The New York Times has begun a series by John Leland on six of “the oldest old” living in New York City.
Leland’s first article is bittersweet. Two of his subjects, who range in age from eighty-eight to ninety-two, are ready to die. Another has found love while living in a nursing home and is looking forward to marriage. John Mekas, 92, is able to continue in his career as filmmaker, writer, and poet. Ruth Willig, 91, is feeling lost after her assisting living facility was sold off in a real-estate deal and she was forced to move to a strange neighborhood. Ping Wong, 90, is philosophical. “A little pain” she says, “– just take it and make yourself stronger. Take a deep breath Try everything to heal yourself.”
Leland makes it clear that anyone who lives to be counted among the oldest old will face many challenges. What struck this reader is the importance of federal programs in helping the oldest old meet those challenges. Social Security and Medicare are vital to their survival. Ping Wong receives food stamps to eke out her living. Meals on Wheels, funded under the Older Americans Act delivers a daily hot meal that helps make her life bearable.
Yet we have politicians today who are determined to undermine the Social Security program. The authorization for the Older Americans Act expired in 2011, leaving its future uncertain — even though AARP, the National Council on Aging, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have been urging Congress to expand and reauthorize the program.
Politics makes a difference in the lives of seniors, and we would be wise to vote for politicians who will protect our interests.