Boston Business Journal, March 1, 2016. Michael Norton, State House News.
About 300 seniors and elder services providers rallied Monday for funding and policy changes to better serve a fast-growing segment of the Massachusetts population.
On Leap Day, ralliers ticked off statistics pointing to an increasingly older Massachusetts population and challenged Beacon Hill to make a “budget leap” to address the needs of older residents.
The Massachusetts Councils on Aging (MCOA), citing estimates from the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, says the number of adults 60 and over in Massachusetts will soon eclipse the under-20 age cohort for the first time in recorded history.
“The important takeaway message is on Dec. 31 of this year there will be more older adults in the Commonwealth than there will be people younger than 20 years old,” Rep. Denise Garlick of Needham, a registered nurse and co-chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Elder Affairs, told the News Service. “And so our need to continue our work with our young people and to grow the next generation that is strong and prepared for the future never wavers. But our sense of what we need to do for older adults in the Commonwealth in regards to health care, housing, transportation, mental health – all of these issues are pressing on us and we have to be ready and prepared. The most wonderful thing in the world is that many people are living longer than they ever expected. It’s also a tremendous strain as people try and plan and prepare.”
Rally organizers said the elderly population in Massachusetts will soar by 360,000 people between 2015 and 2035. About 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the United States and nearly 40 percent of those hitting that milestone will need long-term services for more than two years, with 16 percent needing more than $100,000 in services.
As the first Baby Boomers turn 70 this year, lawmakers and the Baker administration are being asked to make more people eligible for home care assistance, to raise the wages paid to home health aides, and to resist forcing the elderly into health care plans. Home care advocates are also urging state officials to take advantage of funding streams under the federal Affordable Care Act.
The councils on aging association recently received an increase in its grant allocation formula from $8 to $9 per elder per year and is pressing to reach $12 per elder per year by 2020. According to David Stevens, executive director of the association, the formula is based on the April 1, 2010 Census count. Since the release of that count, the 60-plus cohort in Massachusetts has increased from 19 percent to 22 percent of the state’s population. By the next Census in 2020, the 60-plus group will comprise 24 percent of the population, according to projections. Citing the outdated numbers, the council is seeking an increase to $10 per elder per year in the state budget for fiscal 2017, which begins on July 1.
In a letter to lawmakers, MCOA President Joanne Moore of the Duxbury Council on Aging and legislative chair Vicki Lowe of the Foxborough Council on Aging said local councils are often the first stop for elders seeking services, including healthy aging and wellness programs, transportation, supportive day programs, job search assistance and access to state and federal benefits.
“Just as in the fifties and sixties, when local and state government had to build new schools and allocate additional funding for education and youth programs, the state needs to recognize that we now need to step up our delivery of services for older adults,” Moore and Lowe wrote.
Asked about awareness on Beacon Hill of the challenge of the state’s changing demographics, Garlick said, “I think many of the people in the building are understanding that it’s not just a challenge for the Commonwealth but it’s a challenge for individuals in the building as well. Many people are becoming older adults themselves or they’re caring for a loved one who is older and they’re seeing these issues firsthand.”
Mass Home Care’s Al Norman, who is active on Beacon Hill, said Mitt Romney was the last governor to mention the elderly in a State of the State address, in 2006.
“After that, nobody else,” Norman told the crowd Monday. “What is going on in this building?”
Garlick said she was “heartened” that House Speaker Robert DeLeo mentioned senior citizens in his January address to his colleagues.
In DeLeo’s annual speech, he brought up seniors in a cost-of-living context. “While we must tackle the complicated questions that our rapidly changing energy infrastructure poses, at the same time, we have to make sure we keep the lights on at a reasonable cost to ratepayers,” he said. “As I listen to advocates and policy experts, I keep in mind the seniors who have worked their entire lives to build a better future for their family only to find themselves struggling to pay for necessities such as energy. I keep in mind the new moms and dads who are struggling to keep their growing family warm.”
With activists looking to alter budget proposals offered by Gov. Charlie Baker, Norman told rally attendees who planned to go door-to-door in the State House to ask staff and lawmakers to make sure they deliver requests to House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sen. Karen Spilka.
“That’s how we make ourselves heard,” he said.
Said Garlick, “There is ageism in America. And many people have tried to think of themselves as very young so they deny the fact that they’ll be older adults. And just like leap year, it comes and it’s a surprise but you’ve got to be ready for it.”