By Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO
The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), brought together more than 100 elected officials, social advocates and service providers along with members of the older adult population in an open forum in the Miami-Dade College InterAmerican Campus on June 9th. This safe space gave those present the opportunity to discuss solutions to issues such as economic insecurity, hunger and unaffordable housing.
I am really excited about our forum as this is an important year. It is not only an election year, but it is also a year during which we have started to see some momentum on the national level on aging issues and some real attention to all our work together.
For several years, we have gone to Miami to understand the barriers to aging with dignity in America. Over these years, we have shared the struggles and challenges we face – to economic security and accessing housing and healthcare and nutritious meals as well as being safe from fraud and abuse. Each year, we have brought this information back to Washington, D.C. and presented it nationally in our State of Hispanic Older Adults report which we release officially on Capitol Hill and distribute nationally.
Last year, this work was recognized as NHCOA was invited to be a part of the historic 2015 White House Conference on Aging. In addition, there was some movement on legislation as the Older Americans Act, which provides needed services for America’s older adults, was finally re-authorized and funded a full decade after its last re-authorization.
The Older Americans Act and actions like it matter – they provide needed services, from senior centers and meals, to transportation for all of our seniors. NHCOA is working hard with a coalition of national groups to make sure those services are accessible to diverse seniors nationwide.
We insist that all American seniors should enjoy their golden years in security and with dignity.
Though there have been some steps in the right direction, there is much more to be done. The voices of our community leaders have contributed to the national debate that pushed the issues forward. They have inspired us all and the descriptions of their struggles have opened the eyes of many in Miami, Florida and Washington, D.C.
So, on June 9th, we went back to be inspired and informed once again. This time, though, we went a step further and focused primarily on solutions rather than the issues and obstacles. We know that each of our leaders and social workers has strengths and knows their community and the challenges faced better than anyone else, therefore they are the most apt to address those challenges. We promise to take their solutions back to Washington and present them. We promise to give them a national voice and we will work hard so that the country can continue taking steps in the right direction.
It is an election year and it is important for our community to vote. Florida is always a key state in national elections, and the Latino vote in this state has been key in the past two elections. Every vote counts. I know that the voter registration process in Florida is not convenient, but every vote this year is crucial. I would ask everyone to make a commitment and register to vote and also encourage your families and friends to do the same. I especially ask this of our seniors. You are respected by your children and grandchildren and your encouragement can make a huge difference.
The Administration plays a key role in the future of critical issues in the U.S. And we are facing critical issues. During the next administration or by 2019, the Latino population aged 65 and older is projected to be the largest ethnically diverse community in this age group in the U.S. The implications of this demographic shift is huge for our community. Will we have a President and Congress who will work to ensure that housing and nutrition is available for seniors? Will we have policies in place that allow older adults to age with dignity, or in economic security? It is important for us not only to vote, but to make an informed vote based on the issues that impact our community. We need to understand the significance of programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act in our lives and understand the candidates’ positions on these issues in order to vote accordingly.
And, so, in this important year, full of hope and critically important decisions, let’s work together to make sure that all U.S. seniors can age with dignity, knowing that they are safe and cared for by the people, community and nation that they served for so long.