EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 17, 2013

Kuster: Congress can do better

Kuster in Windham

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — Congressman Annie McLane Kuster, D-N.H., stopped at the Windham Senior Center yesterday. She interrupted a game of Scat, but held all the cards.

The Democrat from the 2nd District came calling to let the seniors know she disapproves of Washington’s politics that produced across-the-board budget cuts through the sequester.

Especially troubling for Kuster is the impact on the Meals-on-Wheels program that provides meals to seniors.

“I’m worried about the folks that are shut in and they are depending upon the meals that may be the only nutritious meal they get, and the only socialization,” Kuster said. “My mother used to say ‘pennywise and pound foolish.’ It doesn’t make any sense because if they can’t stay home independently, they’re going to end up in the nursing home and it’s going to cost the taxpayers a lot more.”

Around the card table, seniors nodded in agreement.

In the house was Debra Perou, executive director of Rockingham Nutrition and Meals on Wheels Program Inc.

The program serves 1,100 people a day in Rockingham County. Perou told Kuster the program has laid off one and is trying to figure out how to manage an $81,000 budget cut imposed by the sequester.

“If we passed on the cut we got, we would have to tell six of you every Tuesday and Thursday to go someplace else,” Perou said. “We’re hoping to get the money back because, you know, which six of you?”

For Kuster, the issue is really about priorities.

“Look, I don’t think government should be bigger or should cost more,” she said. “I’ve said this from the beginning: Every tax dollar should be spent wisely or not at all. But we can find waste in other parts of the federal budget. We can cut out the waste and the duplication and the programs that aren’t effective. But what we shouldn’t do is pick six of you and say, ‘No, we aren’t going to feed you.’ That’s not the New Hampshire way.”

Donald Dalphond couldn’t let Kuster go without a word about Social Security.

“What do you think about the chained CPI?” he asked, referencing a possible new way of factoring cost of living into benefits.

“I don’t like that either,” Kuster said. “I think we can find ways to cut and hold the line on the budget.”

“You should not use Social Security as a piggybank to reduce the deficit,” Dalphond, 81, told Kuster.

Voices echoed from around the card table: “That’s right.”

“I’m with you. I totally agree,” Kuster said. “I don’t want to increase the age. I want to make sure we take care of people who have worked hard all these years.”

One thing that can be changed quickly to help Social Security is to increase the cap on withholding, Kuster said.

“They should have done that a long time ago,” Dalphond said. “Raise the cap on it and there will be no problem.”

Kuster begged the group’s pardon for the interrupted card game, thanked the seniors for listening, accepted their applause and departed with a promise.

“That’s what I’m going to do, fight for seniors,” she said. “Just know I’m down there working hard for you. See if we can’t get some sense into them.”