Listen to Cathy MacCaul, AARP's Washington Advocacy Director, and Dennis Mahar, Director of the LMTAAA and Legislative Chair of the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging, talk about issues affecting the baby boomer population on New Day NW.
Accommodating The Needs of an Aging, Shifting Population
Over the next 20 years the proportion of the U.S. population over age 60 will dramatically increase, as 77 million baby boomers reach traditional retirement age. By 2030—in just 16 years—more than 70 million Americans will be 65 and older, twice the number in 2000. At that point, older Americans will comprise nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, representing one in every five Americans.
Demographic Pressures of an Aging Society
Accompanying this demographic shift will be a corresponding rise in the need and demand for fiscal, health and social supports to ensure a sound quality of life for millions of older Americans. The aging of our nation’s population will challenge federal entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and substantially increase demand for home and community-based services (HCBS) offered through the Older Americans Act (OAA).
There is no reason to panic, however, just many reasons to plan. Behind the demographics are real people—our family members, neighbors and community leaders—who deserve the chance to age in place with dignity and independence. To do so successfully, they often need HCBS.
The Aging Network Is the Foundation
The well-established system of federal, state and local entities that comprise the National Aging Network is committed to helping older Americans maintain their independence and live successfully at home and in their communities. The Aging Network is well positioned to meet the service demands of our growing aging population. With adequate resources, this network’s expertise and ability to leverage resources make it the best option to provide nationwide and coordinated long-term services and supports (LTSS). As the local component of the Aging Network—which also includes the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) and 56 State Units on Aging—the 618 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and 246 Title VI Native American aging programs nationwide have successfully developed and delivered aging services in communities for 41 years. Increasingly, many Aging Network entities are also serving people of all ages with disabilities.
Increased Need Meets Federal and State Budget Cuts
Unfortunately, tight federal and state budgets are making it nearly impossible for the Aging Network to maintain existing services. Yet this reduction in resources does not reflect the nation’s current realities of a growing aging population and increased demand. The economic downturn has driven up demand for aging services as more families are struggling to support and care for older relatives, and more older adults are struggling to make ends meet. Recent supplemental poverty estimates2 show more older adults live in poverty than do the non-elderly adult population: 16.1 percent vs. 14.8 percent.3 The numbers of those who are below 250 percent of the poverty line—one life or health event away from poverty—are much starker: nearly 48 percent of adults ages 75 to 84 and 54 percent of those 85 and older in 2010.
State-funded programs for older adults and caregivers—created to build upon or fill gaps in federal funds—are facing drastic reductions and even elimination.
Yet state budget crises have, for the past several years, forced severe cuts to the very programs established to serve this population. State-funded programs for older adults and caregivers—created to build upon or fill gaps in federal funds—have faced drastic reductions and even elimination. Waiting lists are long and growing longer. And, more and more vulnerable older Americans are going without needed critical services.
The federal budget picture is only getting worse. Federal funding has been stagnant for years and now non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs, such as n4a "Policy Priorities 2014: Promote the Health, Security and Well-Being of Older Adults" have limited growth opportunities resulting from budget caps imposed through 2021 under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The BCA’s sequestration mechanism is another blow to the stability and capacity of vital NDD programs helping seniors across the country. The blunt-force sequester cuts in FY 2013 inflicted real pain at the local level, as AAAs were forced to suspend programs, limit service hours, reduce staff and otherwise struggle to cut funding from an already efficient but underfunded system. In FY 2014, most OAA programs were further squeezed, stagnating at reduced, post-sequestration funding levels. These reductions, which directly affect older adults and caregivers served by the Aging Network, must not continue.
Tight Budgets Demand Wise Investment
There is hope. Now more than ever, we need to invest in proven, cost-effective programs and systems that represent wise investments for older adults, caregivers and all Americans. With no funding to spare, our choices have to be more wisely considered. We cannot afford to slash effective safety-net programs. We know such shortsightedness only leads to a sicker, less independent and more economically vulnerable older adult population.
Our country must face these changing demographics and challenging fiscal crisis and make prudent choices about:
• how and where we want older Americans to age in place—in their homes and communities;
• where we invest our limited dollars to develop sensible, interconnected LTSS systems that cost- effectively serve older adults in the community;
• how we encourage less expensive (and often preferred) forms of care, such as HCBS over institutional care;
• how we can prevent, delay or reduce the costly effects of chronic disease and other health risks with evidence-based health and wellness programs offered at a low cost in the community; and
• what targeted investments we can make to ensure that people age in place successfully, such as reliable transportation, affordable housing and livable communities.