We should nurture, not ax, programs for older volunteers

What to say about a federal program that helps enable 245,000 U.S. seniors to tutor kids, renovate homes and teach English to immigrants?

How about this: “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.” That is White House budget director Mick Mulvaney last month, explaining why the Trump administration’s budget blueprint proposes cutting dozens of federal programs.

Mulvaney was not specifically referring to Senior Corps, which allows all those seniors to find ways to volunteer. He was trying to justify a much longer list of cuts that are, well, deplorable – everything from legal services for the poor to public television and environmental protection.

The plan would eliminate a long list of federal agencies – among them the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers Senior Corps and Americorps, the community service program aimed at young people. The White House also wants to kill programs that help low-income seniors with job training and placement and assistance paying utility bills. Some funding for the Meals on Wheels program also could be threatened.

It is not clear that the White House can get any of this through Congress – all of these programs have devoted followings in communities across the country, and older people vote in disproportionate numbers. But the call to pull the plug on CNCS underscores the administration’s misplaced values, and should be resisted strongly.

Senior Corps does not just “sound good” – it actually is good. The roots of its programs date back to the 1960s; today, Senior Corps operates three programs: RSVP, the largest senior volunteer organization in the nation; Foster Grandparent, which tutors and mentors special-needs young people; and the Senior Companions Program, which helps frail seniors and other adults maintain independence and stay in their own homes.

Senior Corps is the prototype for an idea that is fast gaining ground – engaging the rapidly growing ranks of older Americans for a range of intergenerational projects for the greater good. Learn more at Reuters Money.

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