Do you think you can manage one dollar a day?

John O’Connor

Call it another shameful chapter in the history of nursing homes. But at least the finger wasn’t pointed at the operators this time around.

As crazy as this sounds, the daily personal needs allowance that residents receive has not been raised by one dollar since 1987. So the federal minimum remains at $30 per month. Or about a dollar a day. The consequences of such stinginess can be heartbreaking.

It helps if many states add $30, but even then it’s not much, and it doesn’t negate the fact that the federal minimum requirement hasn’t been raised for more than 35 years.

Should there be a law, you say? Well, Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) tried to enact one in 2019. Her action would have brought benefits up to $60 a month — but she’s improved significantly. Her colleagues were so impressed by this act of modesty that they did not bother to hold a hearing.

So how good is your wages with a dollar a day to spend on things like shampoo and the occasional Diet Coke? Even worse, how would you pay if the facility where you lived deducted things that should be free from that amount? Which, by the way, is not exactly unheard of.

What is clear about life in America to anyone paying attention is that one’s status and treatment tend to have a lot in common. If you were a decimated millionaire who carelessly deposited far more than $250,000 federally insured in a bank run by howler monkeys, fear not. The feds – after perhaps receiving a few well-placed phone calls from those with the appropriate clout – will be more than happy to make sure every penny is safe.

Conversely, if you were a person of low status and borrowed money to pay for a near-worthless college degree – and now you can’t meet your loan obligations because employment is out of reach? That’s too bad, but in this case, rules are rules. It’s time to gather, buttercup.

Speaking of low status, Medicaid nursing home residents have to be low. After all, these are welfare recipients we’re talking about, right?

Therein lies their problem. You see, when you live on handouts, that’s what you get. And believe me, no one with influence is terribly interested in making a well-placed phone call that might help make things better.

But perhaps these residents should try to look on the bright side. After all, that can of Diet Coke will probably still be around next month.

John O’Connor is Managing Editor at McKnight’s.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s long-term care news columns are not necessarily those of McKnight.