Radio Address on Older Americans.
A President signs many bills, but one that I signed today gave me special satisfaction because of the enormous impact it can have on the lives of millions of individual Americans.
I refer to the legislation known as H.R. 1--and especially to its provisions for helping older Americans.1 Many of these provisions grew out of recommendations which I have been urging the Congress to act on for several years.
1 See Item 389.
Let's look at some of the things H.R. 1 will do:
first, nearly 4 million widows and widowers will get larger social security benefits--the full 100 percent of what was payable to the individual's late husband or wife. This will mean more than $1 billion in additional income for these deserving people in the next fiscal year.
Second, over a million and a half older Americans who are now working can earn more income without having their benefits reduced.
Until today, if you were receiving social security, every dollar you earned above $1,680 cost you 50 cents in benefits--and every dollar you earned above $2,880 cost you a full dollar. But under the new provision--which I have advocated for years--you can earn up to $2,100 without losing a cent of social security, and every dollar you earn above that $2,100--no matter how many--will cost you only 50 cents in benefits. This will encourage more older Americans to work--helping them and helping the country.
Third, millions of older Americans who live in poverty, along with the blind and the disabled, will be helped by a new Federal floor under their income--a monthly minimum of $130 for an individual and $195 for a couple. Free of the inequities and red tape which plague the present system, this program will channel an estimated $ 1 billion in the next fiscal year to those whose needs are greatest. For millions of older people, it can mean a big step out of poverty and toward a life of dignity and independence.
In addition, H.R. 1 will pay a special minimum benefit of $170 per month to 150,000 older persons who worked for long years at low wages. Men who retire at 62 will also be helped. Medicare coverage will be extended to cover 100 percent and not just 80 percent of home health services, and to cover more of the cost of nursing home care, to pay for kidney transplants, chiropractors, and other services formerly not covered at all, and to cover disabled Americans of all ages. The patient's fees for Part B of Medicare will be limited. And steps will be taken to increase the quality and the appropriateness of services which are paid for by Medicare and Medicaid.
Altogether, H.R. 1 will improve the income position of millions of older Americans. That, in my judgment, is the best way to help older people--by providing them with more money so they can do more things for themselves.
H.R. 1 is only the latest in a series of steps we have taken to improve the incomes of older people. In the last 4 years, for example, social security benefits have gone up 51 percent. That is the largest and most rapid increase in history. But the important thing is not just that benefits have been brought up to date. The important thing is that they now can be kept up to date. That is a result of the automatic increase provisions which I have been pushing for many years and which finally became law this summer.
Social security, in short, is now "inflation proof." Payments that keep pace with the cost of living are no longer something the elderly have to battle for in the Congress year after year. They have at last become a guaranteed right for older Americans.
There have been other forward steps as well--proposals to make private pension programs more comprehensive and more reliable, for example, and to let older people receive more tax-free income.
Inflation is a special menace to the income of older Americans. Since 1969, we have cut the rate of inflation almost in half. In the area of medical care prices, we have cut inflation by nearly two-thirds--an achievement which is particularly important to older people because they spend more than three times as much per capita on health care as do younger people.
And we are also moving to relieve the property tax burden which falls so heavily on older citizens. Two-thirds of older Americans own their own homes. Yet, even when their income has gone down because of retirement, their property taxes have kept going up--by more than too percent in the last 10 years. The result: The home which was once a symbol of financial independence too often becomes a cause of financial hardship.
There are over 6 million American homeowners who are more than 65 years old. More than one million of these retired Americans live in their own homes on an income of less than $2,000 a year. In the Northeast, to take one example, these elderly citizens are paying an average of 30 percent of their income in property taxes.
This is wrong. We must stop it. One of my highest priority proposals to the new Congress will be property tax relief for older Americans.
Another problem which is of critical concern for older Americans--and for this Administration--is the quality of our nursing homes. Many of them are doing a good job, but too many have been below recent and decent standards. In 1971, I launched a new eight-point action plan to change this.2 Under that plan, we have already cut off Federal funding to hundreds of hopelessly inferior homes. H.R. 1 will permit the hiring and training of 2,000 inspectors to enforce strict regulations. And we have substantially expanded Federal efforts to make all nursing homes brighter and better places.
2 See 1971 volume, Items 259 and 260.
On July 19, 1972, the White House released a fact sheet on progress on the eight-point improvement program for nursing homes and the transcript of a news briefing on a meeting with the President to report on the program. Participants in the news briefing were John G. Veneman, Under Secretary, Dr. Merlin K. DuVal, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs, and Dr. Marie Ca!lender, Special Assistant for Nursing Home Affairs, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and Arthur S. Flemming, Special Consultant to the President on Aging.
We also want to help more older Americans live decent, dignified lives in the familiar settings of their own homes. This is why we have increased budgeting under the Older Americans Act eightfold in the last 4 years, expanding a wide range of services in fields such as health, education, homemaking, counseling, and nutrition.
While the Older Americans bill is being perfected in the months ahead, these programs will all move forward under a continuing resolution. We have also taken special steps to fight crime in areas where older people are living, to provide more housing and transportation for older people, to fight job discrimination based on age, and to expand opportunities for older people to find self-fulfillment in useful voluntary action. We have doubled the budget for the Foster Grandparent Program. We have tripled the budget for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.
This summer I launched a new program called Project FIND.3 Its purposes were expressed in its name--to "find" older people who are so isolated that they are not receiving the help which should be theirs.
3 See Item 244.
The results have been remarkable. One and a half million names have already come in to us. And now, with the help of the American Red Cross, we are mobilizing an army of 20,000 volunteers to make personal contact with each one of these elderly persons.
Already over 300,000 contacts have been made. In Des Moines, for example, a group of high school students has been giving many hours a week to visiting older people. One girl, Carol Clayton, discovered a 79-year-old man a few weeks ago who spoke only Spanish. He lived on very little income, and he had never heard about food stamps. And now, as a result of Project FIND, Trinidad Medina has made contact with the Polk County Department of Social Services. Just as importantly, he has made a friend, Carol Clayton. He can't communicate with her in English, but with the help of his Spanish guitar, he has no trouble communicating friendship.
This, in the final analysis, is what our programs to help older people are all about: not lines on an organization chart, or numbers in a budget, but helping individual men and women live fuller, richer lives.
In less than 4 weeks, we will celebrate another Thanksgiving. Our family will think back to our first Thanksgiving in the White House 3 years ago. Our guests that day were over 200 older Americans. When I talked with them, I found that many were particularly excited about the Moon walks that they had recently watched on television. And it occurred to me on that day that most of our guests could also remember the first airplane flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, over a half century ago.
Our older generation has lived through the greatest period of change in human history. They have brought our Nation through all that change with colors flying. We owe them more than we can ever repay.
But when we think of older Americans, we must not think only about what they have already given. We must also think about what they still can give. They are our seasoned veterans, and America can never be at its best if we keep them on the bench.
We hear a lot about generation gaps these days. We cannot afford a generation gap which shuts out the young in this country. But neither can we afford a generation gap that shuts out the old.
And so we must develop a new attitude toward aging in America, one that stops regarding older Americans as a burden and starts regarding them as a resource.
Senior power can be a tremendous source of energy for our country. Churchill was a great leader at 81. Holmes was a great jurist at 91. Clara Barton led the Red Cross at 83, and Connie Mack led the Athletics at 88. Michelangelo was painting at 89; Toscanini was conducting at 87. And for every celebrated name like these, there are millions of ordinary citizens in their seventies and eighties who are making extraordinary contributions to their communities.
Senator Green of Rhode Island used to contend: "Most people say that as you get old you have to give up things. I think you get old because you give up things."
I believe that millions of older Americans can make great contributions to our Nation's progress if only they have the chance. This really is the point of our Government programs and policies--to help older Americans play a full, continuing role in the great adventures of America.
Thank you and good afternoon.
Note: The President spoke at 4:45 p.m. from Camp David, Md. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio. Time for the broadcast was purchased by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.
The President spoke from a prepared text. An advance text of his address was released on the same day.
Richard Nixon, Radio Address on Older Americans. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/255529