By Paul Downey
All eyes have been on the Presidential candidates as they debate issues such as healthcare, immigration, taxes and national security. It is hard to ignore their rhetoric even though the candidates continue to disregard the critical issues that impact the lives of our senior population.
The Leadership Council on Aging recently organized Seniors Decide 2016, a presidential candidate forum focused solely on senior issues. Serving Seniors, along with more than 200 senior centers across the country, hosted a watch party to hear from candidates about programs and policies affecting older Americans. Despite the fact that about one-fourth of the voting population is over the age of 65, only one Democrat candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, participated in the forum and one Republican candidate, Gov. John Kasich, sent a representative.
The forum on Feb. 17 was a missed opportunity for candidates to hear directly from senior voters. More than 1,000 seniors submitted questions on issues such as senior meals, affordable housing, long-term care, Alzheimer’s disease, caregiver support, elder abuse and economic security. Since the number of seniors is projected to double over the next 15 years, it makes no sense that candidates are choosing to ignore this demographic.
In this election, seniors deserve more than a scripted talking point on Social Security or Medicare. The conversation on aging issues needs to begin now or our society will pay the price in the future.
We should be discussing long-term care. In the next 30 years, the number of people needing long-term care will dramatically increase, just as the available workforce begins to decrease. Medicare does not cover the expense and private long-term care is unaffordable for the majority of families in this country.
We should be discussing caregiver support. There are more than 40 million unpaid caregivers in the United States taking care of their elderly family members with deteriorating health problems. The financial and emotional burden for these caregivers must be alleviated.
We should also be discussing services for vulnerable seniors that have been drastically underfunded in recent years. The Older Americans Act, which provides funding for a wide range of social services and programs for older adults and their families, has not been reauthorized in Congress since 2006.
As a society, we need to challenge the candidates to address these important issues that have social and financial consequences. These issues are important to seniors, but they affect all Americans. The quieter the candidates are on the issues, the louder we need to be as advocates for seniors.
For two decades, Paul Downey has been the president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty for the last 45 years.
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