S. E. Williams
Last week, seniors from all over California and their advocates rallied at the State Capitol in Sacramento to make their voices heard by legislators on issues important to the state’s aging community.
Inland Empire seniors, sponsored by a San Bernardino seniors organization and led by Maricela Ferguson, journeyed by bus to participate in the event. They were joined in their effort by the Honorable Cheryl Brown, a newly appointed member of the California Commission on Aging (Commission), who was also a key speaker at the event.
Approximately 5.1 million persons aged 65 and over called California home at the close of 2015, and the aging Baby Boomer population is expected to grow that number to 8.4 million by the year 2030. In addition, as the state becomes more ethnically diverse, there is certain to be increased demand for service that is also culturally competent.
Each year, Senior Rally Day serves as a catalyst, bringing together the state’s aging community and its advocates to push state legislators to continue efforts to establish and maintain the rights of this vulnerable demographic.
A 2015 report by the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long Term Care, A Shattered System: Reforming Long-Term Care in California, noted that seniors, their families, caregivers, and state and local governments frequently find themselves caught in “a costly and fragmented non-system of long term care services and support because the state had failed to make efficient and effective long term care a priority.”
In her presentation at the rally, Brown pointed to the work that needs to be done to help resolve this concern. Among the issues Brown and the seniors pressed upon the legislature Thursday was the need to restore funding to programs cut during the recession. Brown stressed that SSI rates are currently at poverty levels, that there is a need to resolve the increasing problem of senior homelessness, and there is a need to build more affordable and accessible housing for the state’s growing elderly population.
Another area of concern involved the number of adults with disabilities in California, which is expected to grow by nearly 20 percent in the coming years. Add to that the increasing number of residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, projected to impact more than 1.1 million Californians by 2030.
California’s continued reliance on the patchwork of current programs and services is not adequate to meet the growing needs of the state’s ever-increasing elderly population. As the study pointed out, such reliance is destined to result in unnecessary expenditures, inequitable access, and irrelevant services.
Current programs designed to assist the state’s dependent adults are stretched across a minimum of six major state departments without a designated leader to champion a statewide vision, develop a statewide plan, or implement a statewide strategy.
Brown explained that this year, the Commission, the state voice for older residents, is advocating for programs and services that will help lift seniors out of poverty, provide protections for the most vulnerable, and support the desire of all Californians to age healthily, securely and purposefully.
In her presentation, Brown stressed, “We are asking the Legislature to take a more comprehensive view by expanding the jurisdiction of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long Term Care.”
She further called for the creation of a Standing Committee on Aging and Long Term Care and called for the Assembly and Senate to conduct, “Joint Hearings among the respective Budget committees and relevant Standing Policy Committees to focus on aging and long term care budget items only.”
The 2015 report made more than 30 legislative recommendations for action and provided a strategy to achieve improved coordination and a high-functioning, comprehensive system.
As part of last week’s rally, seniors and their advocates visited the offices of their legislators to discuss issues related to aging and long-term care.
Nearly 70 percent of those aged 65 years and older will need Long-Term Care (LTC) services and support. Additionally, approximately 80 percent of LTC care givers are family members, may become more vulnerable to health issues and economic hardship than the person for whom they care.
It may be surprising to learn that, in California, 4.4 million family caregivers provide more than four billion hours a year of unpaid care, valued at nearly $57 billion. In her presentation at the rally, Brown noted, “California has the highest number of family caregivers in the nation.”
However, the availability of family caregivers in the state is on the decline. The 2010 ratio of caregivers for every person in what is considered the high-risk years of 80 plus was 7 to 1. That ratio is projected to decline to 4 to 1 by 2030.
Unfortunately, only 37 percent of seniors have adequately planned for their future in-home care needs. This is largely because many of them believed Medicare would cover in-home LTC—it will not, and a majority of seniors cannot afford it. As a result, 64 percent of all LTC needs are accommodated by government programs. California’s LTC cost could increase by nearly 88 percent from $6.6 billion in 2013 to a projected $12.4 billion by 2023.
The state’s concern over how to best serve its growing senior population is further exacerbated by issues of poverty. One in six of the state’s seniors live in poverty, including 43 percent of Hispanic women and 34 percent of Black women who live alone. Unsurprising, considering the gross disparity between wages paid to men versus women, and the further disparity of wages paid to White women versus women of color. These disparities have a real impact on lifetime ability to contribute to retirement savings accounts and the level of earnings-based Social Security contributions.
This dilemma is further compounded by the reality that 20 percent of California adults over 65 live below the poverty threshold of about $16,000 a year, compared to only 15 percent nationwide.
California seniors have even greater fear of the possible impact the proposed America Health Care Act on their already stressed existence. As Brown highlighted, the law is bad news for caregivers, as it could result in the loss of 1.8 million jobs. Many believe the impact on seniors would be catastrophic.
Additionally, Californians over 65 are the fastest growing homeless population.
Due to state budget constraints forced by the Great Recession, at least nineteen state programs supporting California seniors experienced major budget cuts or were eliminated; many others had their funding frozen. Since the economic recovery, only seven programs have had their funding partially restored.
This data makes clear that California legislators must work harder to keep pace with the needs of a growing senior population, particularly regarding LTC. Seniors in California, like seniors around the country, prefer to remain at home and avoid institutionalization to every extent possible.
This year’s Senior Rally Day once again pushed legislators to act. Seniors demanded wise use of state resources to ensure the financing and delivery of services will enable seniors to, “live to their fullest capacity without being treated like patients or as burdens to society.”