It is nothing short of a national tragedy; 45% of aging Americans are not financially able to meet their most basic needs. Many of these older adults must routinely shuffle their available resources in an attempt to keep quality health care, a roof over their heads, lighting, heating and air conditioning, cash resources for food and medicine, and other life basics. Living paycheck to paycheck has morphed into living day to day. Choices like eating today or purchasing high blood pressure medication are sadly becoming the norm for many. While this might read as dramatic, the truth is that envisioning lyrical “golden years” for nearly half of Americans 65 or more has become an illusion.
Aging in America and living in poverty is synonymous for 6.4 million seniors. While the 45% statistic is of desperate social concern, projections infer that, by 2050, senior poverty will quadruple without major government policy changes. The significant steps that currently address education and jobs, such as poverty prevention programs, policies, and corresponding social movements, have made inroads reducing poverty levels for some. However, for the increasing population of low to no income seniors, these preventative measures do not address their demographic and are too late to save them.
To fight senior poverty, TalkPoverty suggests the following:
- Strengthening the existing social safety net, including shoring up the insolvencies inherent in the Social Security program.
- Improving the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Supplemental Security Disability Income (SSDI) programs, and Medicare and Medicaid (CMS).
- Increase the available programs providing assistance with healthcare, including long-term care costs. 70% of Americans over the age of 65 will require long-term care at some point in their lives.
- Advocate for federal support for a more robust long-term care safety net aside from Medicaid, an already strained system with long waiting lists to reside in often sub-standard facilities with poor infection control rates. There needs to be a solution for middle-income seniors.
- Reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which provides funding for seniors’ critical services to remain living healthy and independent lives. Congress can renew its commitment to providing seniors with essential services by reauthorizing this Act.
Justice in Aging reports that older Americans with Medicare still spend an average of $5,368 per year on out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and the majority have no long-term care coverage. There must be a push to protect and improve programs and leverage technology, making care more affordable and more available to seniors aging at home and in their communities.
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased legal issues for seniors, for which seniors require a champion in the courts. The federal mandate protecting evictions is due to expire in 2020, putting many seniors at risk of losing their homes.
Anyone in American can wind up aging into poverty. Nearly 5 million older adults in America live on less than $1,000 a month. Improvements in independent living programs and senior access to those programs can help older adults meet their basic needs while remaining in their communities. Expanding access and benefits to lower-income seniors through Social Security, SSI, and SSDI is the responsibility of American elected leaders. There is a moral imperative afoot to protect vulnerable populations, and none are more susceptible than aging elder Americans falling into cycles of impoverishment.
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