Senior volunteer irked Bush has not kept word
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 15, 2006

Dianna M. Nez

When Lucia Haas met President Bush in 2004, she was honored he wanted to commend her personally for her year of volunteer work with Surprise's Senior Center.

Even more so, Haas said she was proud of Bush because he had recently issued a call for all Americans to volunteer in their communities.

Bush was visiting Phoenix and promoting his USA Freedom Corps program to help foster service, citizenship and responsibility. Two years have passed, and Haas has heeded that call. She volunteers every day with the center, calling bingo, teaching English-as-a-second-language courses and serving meals to seniors.

But she feels Bush has not kept the promises he made to her and other senior volunteers.

Specifically, the 75-year-old is worried about the effect pending federal legislation may have on a place she calls her "home away from home," and she wants Bush to do something about it.

"I think he should visit our center to see the program is good for seniors and the center," Haas said. "This is the bad thing about politicians. They promise one thing today and later they forget about it. They should keep their promises."

Haas is upset about potential changes in the Senior Community Service Employment Program. The program is part of the Older Americans Act that Congress is rewriting to reauthorize the legislation.

The program provides minimum-wage community service and job training programs for low-income seniors who are older than 55 and who are no more than 25 percent above poverty level. For a family size of one, this would translate to an annual income between $9,800 and $12,250.

Last month, the House voted to reauthorize the bill. The House reauthorization requires the program to focus more on job training by mandating that 30 percent - vs. the current 20 percent - of seniors move into private unsubsidized employment. The increase is scheduled to take place over the next five years. The House bill also places a four-year tenure limit on the length of time a senior's employment can be federally subsidized. Previously, there were no mandated tenure limits.

A Senate bill on the same subject passed out of committee without an increase in the number of seniors required to transfer to unsubsidized employment, and with a three-year tenure limit. The Senate bill awaits action.

But for Haas the change in numbers is more about a change in lives. She has seen firsthand the many seniors who benefit from the program and the support they provide a center that struggles to serve its community. And she fears the legislative changes will make the community service jobs that are important to her program disappear.

Haas is especially proud of her friends Engracia Felix, 73, Bertha Medina, 55, and Martha Brady, 75, who all came to the center through the National Indian Council on Aging, which sponsors the center's program.

"They are beautiful women who need this program and we need them," Haas said.

Senior Center Supervisor Leslie Rudders, who has worked more than 15 years at senior centers, has used the program for years to benefit elderly clients.

"Sometimes there are limitations like health and transportation that make it impossible for them to work at a (private) company," she said. "But with the program as is, at the very least we can engage them in their community and in some cases we can hire them."