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Opinion

We live in a place that can’t help blind old people

Violet Pollack, top center, assists Helen Johnson, left,

Violet Pollack, top center, assists Helen Johnson, left, and Maureen Connolly with a quilt they are making to raffle off at Helen Keller Services for the Blind in Huntington. (July 12, 2012) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

America is a rich country, with ample money for pointless wars, tax breaks for the rich, and the world’s most wasteful health care system. But the one thing we can’t afford is happiness for a few dozen visually impaired old people.

Newsday reported today that, for want of funds, a charity called Helen Keller Services for the Blind will close two senior programs, in Huntington and Hempstead, where 145 blind or limited-vision seniors enjoy crocheting, quilting, crosswords, and one another’s company. A third such program, serving 25 people in Brooklyn, will also close. As a whole, the programs cost around $200,000 a year, and the organization says state funding has dried up—in particular legislative member items, the oft-abused pool of discretionary funds that Albany lawmakers were able to funnel into programs of their choosing, some of them worthy, small-scale local initiatives like this one.

Resources are always finite, of course, and I am not sentimental about the need to make difficult choices. I’m also well aware that the elderly in this country get a great deal of help from the government, even though, as a group, they are relatively affluent. I’m the guy who practically faced a pitchfork-bearing mob after I wrote a column condemning senior citizen discounts.

Yet this story encapsulated for me everything about what’s wrong with the direction of our society—in particular, our readiness to take ever more from those who already have so little. The president of Helen Keller Services, Tom Edwards, says he hated to order the closing (slated for next month) but he’s facing a $1 million deficit on an $11 million budget (excluding a large federally funded program). Government funding has shrunk and the competition for philanthropic dollars is fierce, while expenses keep rising. So he’s having to make some tough choices indeed. “It broke my heart,” he says, adding hopefully: “Let’s look at this as a suspension.”

For Pete’s sake, isn’t there somebody out there in this rich country of ours who can help a few dozen aged and infirm Americans have a little joy in what remains of their time on this earth? Or would we really just prefer that they go out and play on the LIE?

Pictured above: Violet Pollack, top center, assists Helen Johnson, left, and Maureen Connolly with a quilt they are making to raffle off at Helen Keller Services for the Blind in Huntington. (July 12, 2012)

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