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DC Residents Share Hardships, Call for Change

On Tuesday, February 11, a dozen older District residents came together to share -- with each other and the new Administration -- their experiences of economic hardship and uncertainty, and to advocate for positive change.  The discussion, organized as both an AARP Divided We Fail  forum and one of President Obama’s Economic Recovery House Meetings, raised awareness of the concerns of Washingtonians – and families across the nation – about financial security, the affordability of health care, and the future we are  leaving our children and grandchildren.

The discussion was kicked off by moderator Alan Balkema, an AARP DC volunteer, who shared his experience looking for work and seeing good prospects disappear as the economy worsens.  He hopes the Economic Stimulus Plan will help.  Another attendee, whose full-time job was abolished, spoke of finding good part-time work, but fearing for her eventual retirement.  And retired federal worker Carol Fleming expressed worries about the affordability of her increasingly costly health care coverage.  Many of the participants alsoshared concerns for the future of our city’s children, with school buildings crumbling, educational programs being cut and families struggling to afford college.

One attendee, AARP DC volunteer Henry Ernsthal, is a retiree in his seventies.   He sees himself as an example of someone “who’s been frugal, having worked for non-profit organizations, [and is] now being compelled to watch things even more closely.”  He fears that he couldn’t go back to work if he needed to because of his health issues and regrets “being more isolated from my grandchildren … in California” whom he can no longer afford to visit regularly.

The most poignant story came from Moses Babatunde, whose employer of eight years cut off health coverage for him, his wife and their three very active young boys.  Mr. Babatunde looked into purchasing his own insurance policy, but the cost was prohibitive.  Then one of his sons injured his head in church.  Scared to take the boy to the hospital, which he knew he couldn’t afford, but even more frightened not to, Mr. Babatunde had no real choice but to pay out of pocket  “Every day when [the boys] play around now, I watch them like eagles, telling them to be careful – that you cannot afford to fall now – because I’m not going to be able to afford to pay for your insurance.”

As the attendees wrapped up their conversation, they expressed hopes that the president’s economic recovery program and health care reform plans  would take into consideration concerns such as theirs and bring real positive change.

Divided We Fail is about sharing these stories – along with the experiences of thousands of other Americans from across the nation – with national and local leaders.  It’s about calling on those leaders to commit to working in a bipartisan way to provide concrete and effective actions and answers.  Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Adrian Fenty and all 13 members of the District Council have pledged to work with us.  To find out how you can get involved, visit