The White House Conference on Aging, which took place on July 13th, was inspiring for us at the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) and for all those working on behalf of the U.S.’s diverse aging communities. As the President and CEO of NHCOA, I had the honor and privilege to be invited to attend this critically important event and to represent older Latinos.
The White House Conference on Aging takes place every 10 years and is a catalyst for the national policy agenda in reference to aging for the next decade. This year, the White House Conference on Aging was particularly historic because it concurred with the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The conference opened with Valerie Jarret, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, who provided the welcoming remarks. President Barack Obama attended personally and demonstrated his commitment to the nation’s aging population. A key comment made by the President, which is especially inspiring to our community was the following:
“We have to ensure that every older American has the resources and the support they need to strive”
– President Barack Obama
This statement was especially poignant for me because it demonstrated that the President of the U.S. was conscious of, and concerned about, the difficult realities faced by the nation’s elders. He also expressed his support for better working environment and pay conditions for home health care workers. This is an area of great concern to NHCOA, which works in the partnership with the Ford Foundation to promote a healthy, positive, and fair job environment for workers. Following are some additional highlights from the Conference.
Panels focusing on caregiving and economic planning focused on two critically important issues for the nation’s aging population. Themes from these panels included the importance of providing support to the nation’s caregivers and making retirement planning education and opportunities available and accessible to diverse communities.
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed nutrition and hunger. Hunger is a key concern because many older adults are going to bed hungry. A key takeaway from his presentation is that it is important to focus on intergenerational work to achieve healthy aging.
Kathy Greenlee from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services moderated a panel about Elder Justice in the Twenty-First Century. The panel focused on elder fraud and abuse and what is being done to address this issue. Programs and lessons learned were highlighted during the presentation, as well as our nation’s readiness to address this issue into the 21st Century as America’s population ages.
Another topic addressed during the conference was the great influence of technology on society, both positively and negatively. For example: Uber is a technological advancement that can provide transport to people who do not have access to a car or are unable to drive, making it possible for them to find affordable and convenient transportation.
U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez made closing remarks, inspiring us to remain actively engaged to address key civil rights issues impacting older adults.
Much of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging was on point and addressed most of the important issues faced by older Americans. Unfortunately, it did fail to touch on a few critically important topics, including a lack of access to affordable, quality housing. In addition, the plight of low income seniors was not a prevalent focus of the Conference.
As a nation, we still have a long way to go to ensure that all older adults regardless of race and sexual orientation age with dignity, but we must press forward. As the President said, “A country is judged by the way it treats and cares for its elders.” NHCOA and I are dedicated to ensuring that our Nation’s Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers and, indeed all American seniors, can enjoy our elder’s golden years in security, dignity and the best possible health. The White House Conference on Aging demonstrated a national commitment to the same goal, which we can achieve together.