Becoming involved in the political process is the best way to meet the needs of seniors
By Marvin Schachter 04/24/2014
By and large, politicians are not especially popular. We suspect that too many of them are motivated by vanity and personal profit rather than an unselfish desire to serve the common good. On the really big issues — war and peace or the state of the environment and the economy — we know that what politicians decide affect every one of us and we pay attention but mostly, most of us, are involved in our personal lives, problems and careers.
We vote, but very few of us participate in choosing the candidates whose names appear on the ballot. And how often, especially on the national and state level, do we follow and evaluate how and why they vote on legislation?
Why do I write about the political process?
Because this Saturday, as Pasadena celebrates older adults at its unique annual Conference on Aging, issues affecting the well being of both present-day older adults and future generations are being decided at both national and state levels.
What are some of the issues now on national and state agendas?
In 1600 life expectancy was 35; my father, born in 1888, had an expectancy of 60; I am in my ninth decade and that will be the expected life expectancy for today’s younger generation. But recent studies show that 47 percent of the US population of people 85 and over will be victims of Alzheimer’s disease in 2050. Today, 1.5 million Americans and more than 30 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association does a magnificent job of education and support for treatment and research, but there is precious little governmental support for the research, drug trials, care and treatment investigations that are desperately needed.
Or consider the growing, most basic need, that of affordable and appropriate housing for the elderly. Both federal and state support for basic affordable housing for seniors who can still live independently have for all practical purposes disappeared, although some projects are still being built. But government programs for seniors who can no longer live independently, who require assisted living, have never existed. It is not that we do not know what is required, how they should be built and run. There are many such residences in existence and available and looking for new tenants, but only if you can pay at least $5,000 or more each month for each resident.
There are two significant issues now before the California Legislature that are examples of efforts to respond to significant needs.
Assembly Bill 391 is an affordable housing bill establishing a $500 million affordable housing fund for low-income Californians of all ages. It is a measure with broad support that would enable the state to leverage an additional $2.78 million in federal and local funds. In addition to meeting a crucial need, it would create 29,000 jobs. It should be an easy bill to pass, but struggles through the legislative process.
Adult Protective Services is an underfunded state program which provides a 24-hour, seven-day response to reports of neglect of people over 65 and dependent adults of any age. With a rapidly growing elderly and disabled population it cannot do its job with limited funds that have not been increased for the past nine years.
Far be it for me to underestimate the value of the many nonprofit and membership organizations that provide magnificent services, information and advocacy for older adults. They are indispensable and deserve the support of everyone concerned with the welfare of older adults.
These organizations are rigorously nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Thy can provide information on needs and issues. They can conduct nonpartisan good citizenship efforts to increase voting turnout.
I suggest something more is needed, and that is full participation in the political process. Whatever your party, you can urge support for legislation and funding that meets the needs of older folks. You can support candidates who understand those needs and will be advocates when those issues are being discussed and voted on.
In many cases, senior caucuses have organized in political organizations in order to more effectively participate in the full political process.
Isn’t this a good time to show that effective politics does not depend on how much money a candidate can raise?
Marvin Schachter, a member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults, is also a senior policy adviser for AARP California and a member of the Pasadena Conference on Aging Planning Committee. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.