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The Older Worker Program, also called the Senior Community Service Employment Program (Title V), provides 20 hours a week of work or training to low-income seniors. (Under the Federal Older Adult Act) Although the pay was only minimum wage, at Interfaith Older Adult Programs in Milwaukee, we received 2 weeks paid vacation and ten paid sick days. Some workers got small raises.
But in 2003 Title V began to resemble welfare programs for young people. Here’s my story.
In 1998 I took a Title V funded computer repair certification class. Interfaith paid us minimum wage to take these courses. Only four of us completed the class. But, alas, none of us passed the certification exam.
In 2000, under Title V, I programmed 20 computers, which Interfaith gave to senior aides. Then Interfaith hired a classmate and me as senior aides in the computer recycling program. We worked with Independence First who gave the recycled computers to people with disabilities. Independence First paid us an additional $5 an hour. As a result our 20 hr. a week, minimum wage salaries increased to $10.15 an hour. This lasted two months. Then the computer recycling program ended due to lack of funding. I had personally rebuilt ten computers.
We were then given jobs in the Living Options Program. Mostly we did data entry, filing, xeroxing and shreading. Once a month I went to the Federal Bureau of Quality Assurance with my boss and took dictation into a laptop. I transferred this info into nursing home reports and sent it out quarterly to Milwaukee Hospitals. I did that for over a year, 20 hrs a week, $5.15 an hour.
In 2001 my salary was raised to $7 an hour. In addition to my other duties, I maintained a Resource Library and helped set up the Living Options website.
In January 2002, Title V began to change. Some politician noticed that here was a poverty program with no time limits or other punitive practices. Senior aides had enjoyed two weeks vacation, paid holidays and generous paid sick days. Clearly this had to change.
All senior aides hired after 1/2002 were now limited to only 18 months of work—even those with no other source of income. The rest of us, some who had worked in their positions for over 10 years, thought we were exempt from the time limits. We were wrong.
In June 2003, all long-time senior aides were rounded up at a Senior Center. A very condescending woman, Monica Snittler, spoke to us in a voice most people use in talking to their pets or babies. “We know that most of you have been out of the work force for a long time. (Not true.) We can help you. We can even help you get a GED.”
“I don’t need a GED,” I said. “Can you help me get my Masters?” (Most of the senior aides at Interfaith Central Office had degrees ranging from Associates to Masters. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Therapy.)
“No!” Monica snapped. “Only a GED!”
As person after person asked questions that proved that we were not high school dropouts who had never held a job, Monica became increasingly hostile. Finally she screamed, “You are all selfish! Some people have been trying to get into this program for five years. It’s time you all stepped down and gave someone else a chance.” People who attended the later meeting said Monica started out hostile.
Under the new rules, senior aides became senior interns. Internships for those of us hired before Jan. 2002, began July 1, 2003 and ended Dec. 31, 2004. We could take any remaining vacation hours we had till Dec. 31 2003. But we had no more paid holidays and only three sick days a year. We could continue at our present salaries. (I was making $7.21 by then.)
Fortunately for me, I turned 62 just before reaching my time limit. So I was able to apply for Social Security retirement income. But many other senior aides are being terminated with no income, no access to a job, and no eligibility for Social Security yet.
One Interfaith “intern” researched the Title V program and found there were no 18 month time limits or termination of vacation and sick pay on the Federal level. She sent out this information to all other senior interns. She was fired, supposedly not for sending the info, but for sending it in Interfaith envelopes.
Interfaith offered us more Excel and PowerPoint classes, paid for by Title V. They hired a few of us. My department gave me a cake and a $60 gift card for Kohls Department Store. Then I was gone. I could not find another job.
I don’t hate Interfaith. It provides valuable services to thousands of people in this state. I don’t even hate Title V. It is a means for non-profits to get experienced people while providing their volunteers with at least a little income. Under the new rules, a person on Social Security can be on Title V. But a person too young for Social Security can have no other source of income. And 20 hrs. a week at $5.15 an hour puts a person at about $4,000 a year below poverty level.
Most people over 55 are not unemployed due to lack of experience or education. Most of us have plenty of both. We are unemployed because companies see us as an insurance risk. They believe we are sick more often than younger people. (Not true) Limiting our sick days to three a year will just make us come to work sick and infect others. Wouldn’t you if you only made $5,204 a year before taxes?
On Feb. 16, 2005, I began to collect $794 a month in Social Security. This is about $150 a month more than I ever got to support myself and three kids on AFDC. It is my ex’s Social Security. My ex barely supported his family when we were married. He refused to pay child support after we were divorced. But he has been of some use to me since he died. So far there are no time limits to Social Security.
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