An e-mail came across my desk this past week that illustrates why it is so difficult to cut the budget. It was from a public relations firm representing the little known government program Experience Works.
Experience Works is a program for retraining seniors who need to supplement their income and placing them back in the work force. To be eligible, the senior's income must not exceed $13,613 a year and they must be unemployed.
The program serves about 60,000 people and has a budget of $825 million. The budget recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives reduces the agency’s budget to $300 million, and so the screaming starts.
The budget cuts “will be catastrophic.”
“Participants are 70, 80, and 90 year olds and are already on the brink of homelessness.”
“This is a crisis for tens of thousands of vulnerable, low-income seniors.”
Experience Works claims to have surveyed its participants and found that 46 per cent sometimes have to choose between paying rent, purchasing food or buying groceries; 50 per cent need to keep working so they don’t lose their homes or apartments; 43 per cent are looking for work now because they were laid off from their previous positions, and 64 per cent have been looking for work one year or longer. Since this adds up to 296 per cent, we know that most fit in two or more categories.
This emotionally charged press release depends on you not taking time to analyze what is being reported.
People on an income of less than $13,000 were probably common laborers of some sort and can no longer do physical work so retraining is necessary. The agency retrains them mostly for office support, minimum income kind of jobs: answering the phones, greeting customers, computer services, etc. They also look at driving possibilities or home health care such as sitters or companions.
The reality is that most of the participants will be working part time for a minimum wage. At 20 hours a week for $8 an hour, they will supplement their income by $8,500 a year. If you divide 60,000 participants by an $825 million dollar budget, you will find it costs about $13,500 to help that senior make $8,500. What the press release is really concerned with is the loss of the jobs of those government workers employed by the agency.
There are many job retraining programs sponsored by various government agencies that could accommodate the services of Experience Works as part of an existing program. It is important to the people running the program to keep their jobs and therefore to keep the program going, so as soon as the budget cuts are proposed, they employ a public relations firm, using tax payer dollars, to insure the survival of the agency.
This happens over and over again every time a budget cut is proposed. The budget will only be cut when the public turns a deaf ear to this kind of emotional plea and takes a look at the real effects of any given cut.
By the way, how many 80 and 90 year olds do you really think are out there looking for retraining so they can go to work?