Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at a Senior Citizens Breakfast in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

October 28, 1976

It's good to be with you today. I'm not a senior citizen yet, but I turned 52 this month, and I've had my first grandchild and my second is on the way, so I'm starting to know some of the joys of growing older, as well as some of the problems.

The mainstay of my family has for a long time been my mother, a registered nurse, who when she was 68 joined the Peace Corps, and who now al 78 is active in my political campaign and in many activities of her own.

My mother and our family have been blessed with good health and security, but many older Americans are not so fortunate, and I want to talk to you today about ways our government could help them and will help them after January 20.

The Republican record, as far as the needs of older Americans are concerned, is not a good one.

In 1935, the Republicans fought tooth and nail against Social Security.

In 1965, they fought just as hard against Medicare.

Recently, they have sought to reduce their record of deficits by opposing Social Security cost of living adjustments.

Last year, they proposed cutbacks in Social Security benefits, reductions in food programs for the elderly, and increases in the cost of Medicare.

They have cut back on housing for the elderly, and what housing programs they have tried have been dismal failures.

They have given us extremely high inflation that robs every elderly person living on a fixed income, and forces many of you to cut back on food, on clothing, and on such urgent needs as eyeglasses, dentures and hearing aids.

They have recently announced a 19 percent increase in your Medicare deductible, but it has done nothing to end rising medical costs or to end the abuses in the Medicaid program.

They have recently proposed a $25 million cutback in the program of hot meals for the elderly, and an increase in the cost of food stamps that are used by millions of older Americans.

They have opposed programs to give more work opportunities to the elderly and have failed to enforce laws against age discrimination in hiring.

They didn't include any money for home health services in the 1976 budget. Congress appropriated the money anyway, but the Ford Administration refuses to implement the program.

I belong to a different political party, and I hold a different political philosophy from Mr. Ford.

I believe we should think of older Americans as human beings, not as statistics in somebody's budget.

I think that our older Americans have given us a lot, and we have an obligation to provide you with an opportunity for an adequate income, health care, at a cost you can afford, and decent housing and transportation.

Older Americans, like all Americans, have a right to lead full, productive lives, and government should help, not hinder you in achieving that goal.

We must begin to develop a national health care program that will close the gaps that still remain in our health programs for senior citizens.

But we do not need to wait for enactment of a national program to improve health services for older people.

One important reform we can begin immediately would be to shift the focus of our programs away from institutions and toward outpatient and home health services. Currently, 72 percent of all Medicaid payments go for nursing home care, while only 0.2 percent is spent for home health alternatives. Experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of nursing home residents could be cared for at lower cost in their own homes.

Many older Americans cannot drive automobiles because of physical problems or because they cannot afford them. This can mean a terrible loss of mobility in our big, mobile, auto-oriented society.

One way we might help solve this problem would be to provide subsidies through the Urban Mass Transit Administration to cities that provide free transit service to older people during off-peak hours. We might also encourage reduced air fares for the elderly such as we now have for college students and military personnel.

We need federal programs that work with state and local law enforcement agencies to get rid of the street criminals who prey on older people.

Let me say a few words about the Social Security system. A lot of people have been worried about it lately. Republican inflation has depleted its trust fund, and Republican unemployment rates have cut its revenues.

I pledge my administration to maintain the fiscal integrity of our Social Security system.

We should also move continually to make sure that the Social Security system always keeps pace with inflation.

Treatment of the disabled should be improved, especially by shortening the waiting period before benefits can begin for those who deserve them.

In addition, we should encourage Social Security recipients who want to take jobs to do so by liberalizing the earnings test, which currently penalizes retirees who earn more than about $2,600 per year.

I am pledged to carry out a thorough reorganization of the federal government, and I am certain that it will result in improved services for the elderly. At present, it is estimated that between 134 and 180 programs serve the elderly. There is little coordination or interchange between these efforts. As a result, both beneficiaries and administrators are frustrated by the system

As President, I will appoint a Counselor on Aging to advise me and to coordinate existing programs and to develop plans for new initiatives to help the elderly. In addition, the role of the administration on aging needs to be strengthened.

These are some of the things a Carter Administration would do to help older Americans. And there is something you can do to help yourself. Older Americans have the highest voting percentage of any age group. There's good reason for that. You know from a lifetime of experience how important it is to have a good government and one that cares for you.

If you believe in what I stand for, get out and vote. But do more than that Talk to your frends. Write your family and friends in other cities. Volunteer at your local Democratic headquarters.

Don't just do it for Jimmy Carter. Do it for yourselves, and your children and grandchildren, and for the America that we all love.

Thank you.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Senior Citizens Breakfast in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347588

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