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Looking Toward the “Fourth Quarter”

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Tonight President Obama will lay out his fourth quarter plan for his last two years in the White House. Over the last few weeks, he has shared a couple of “SOTU spoilers,” traveling the country to discuss different aspects of what he will present in tonight’s speech.

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Hispanic older adults, families, and caregivers we represent, here are a couple of areas we would like to see the President prioritize over the next two years.

1. Work with Congress to protect low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

The Medicare Qualified Individual program, which pays for low-income seniors’ Medicare Part B premiums, has been temporarily extended until March 31, 2015. Congress should make this program permanent and provide funding to help low-income seniors, particularly Hispanic older adults, gain access to the Qualified Individual program and other Medicare benefits as those who are elegible are most likely not to receive it.

Medicare fraud is also a pervasive issue among Latino seniors. They are systematically targeted due to the multiple barriers that keep them from accessing and understanding their benefits and rights as Medicare beneficiares. Congress should ensure that proper funding be secured to conduct culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and education to this vulnerable, hard-to-reach population.

2. Urge Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the Older Americans Act.

The Older Americans Act is long overdue for reauthorization, and needs to be modernized to better serve the needs of the growing and diverse older adult population it serves, particularly low-income seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. The programs of the OAA are also extremely important in allowing older adults to age in dignity and the best possible health as it authorizes a wide variety of programs focused on health, nutrition, caregiver support, job training, and more.

3. Urge Congress to pass the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014.

The bill would provide some sorely needed updates to this long-neglected program which provides subsistence level income for over 8 million older Americans and people with disabilities. A majority of those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are women, including two-thirds of those who receive SSI on the basis of age. Revising the current SSI program to match 2014 cost of living standards and expenses is not only common-sense, but critical to the success, health, and well-being of all seniors, and especially those in the Hispanic community.

4. Provide increased subsidized housing opportunities for Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors.

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Section 202 Program helps to expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for older adults.  It provides very low-income older adults with options that allow them to live independently but in an environment that provides support activities such as cleaning, cooking, and transportation. Additionally, the building and housing units have railings and other features which make them easily accessible for older adults. Many Hispanic older adults live in subsidized housing, but the wait lists are long, and many wait years before qualifying. Increased funding for these housing programs is needed to reduce the wait periods and allow more Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors to have a safe and affordable place to live.

5. Take action so more working families have access to family and medical paid leave.

Currently, the United States is lagging behind other developed countries on paid family and medical leave policies: it is the only developed nation that doesn’t require employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave. According to the White House, it is estimated that 43 million private-sector workers in the United States do not have access to any form of paid sick leave. We applaud President Obama’s announcement last week, which included a call to Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, but there is more to be done to ensure that all working American families have access to the time off they need to take care of themselves or a family member.

NHCOA will be live tweeting tonight during the State of the Union, which starts at 9 pm ET. For live streaming and more information about tonight’s speech, visit wh.gov/SOTU.

NHCOA Congratulates Mayor Julian Castro on HUD Nomination

Washington, DCDr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA)— the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers—  congratulated San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro on his nomination as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Following a successful confirmation by the United States Senate, Mayor Castro will replace Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is concurrently nominated as the new Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):

“As the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families and their caregivers, NHCOA has long identified the growing need for adequate and affordable housing for older adults as one of its core priorities. It is therefore to our delight that President Obama has tapped a fresh and energetic public servant to this high and critical post.

“Adequate housing is fundamental to both health and one’s quality of life. Moreover, housing costs are generally the highest expense in a household budget. Fluctuations in rent or mortgage can put families in economically precarious situations. This is especially true for seniors living on a fixed budget without options to increase their income.

“Latino homeowners were hit hard by the subprime mortgage crisis. As a result, more Latino families now live in substandard and overcrowded rental housing than five years ago. This is a growing crisis in the Hispanic community, and alarmingly so among Latino seniors.

“NHCOA is committed to alleviating the housing crisis for seniors by implementing public policy practices to ensure that all low-income seniors can afford to age in place, including advocating for affordable housing facilities and homeownership opportunities.

“It is towards this overarching goal that we look forward to the swift confirmation of Mayor Castro as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the U.S. Senate. With his leadership and our strategic partnerships and initiatives, we hope to make new inroads towards alleviating the housing crisis, especially as it relates to multigenerational poverty and providing adequate, affordable housing for all diverse older Americans.”

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Henry Cisneros: U.S. Should Make ‘Life-Long Homes’ A Priority

Provided by Kaiser Health News

By Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News

What will it take for Americans to age successfully in place? This question has immediate importance for policymakers and families as an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 years old every day. It’s the subject of a new book, “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America,” authored by more than a dozen leading aging and housing experts and co-edited by Henry Cisneros, a four-term mayor of San Antonio and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

 

 

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros speaks at the Center for American Progress in Washington in 2009 (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

 

Cisneros, who now runs a company specializing in urban real estate, spent an hour discussing his thoughts about aging in place with reporter Judith Graham. That interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. You start this book talking about your elderly mother.  Tell me about her.

A. My mom and dad bought the home across the alley from her mother’s home in 1945.  It was a lower-middle-class neighborhood of civil service workers — all Latinos. It had the feeling of a Norman Rockwell picture, only all the faces were brown.

My dad passed away in 2006 at age 89, having had a stroke some years before. But my mom, 87, lives there still. The house is essentially the same as it was, with some adjustments. We put a ramp on the side of the house leading to a deck. We raised the toilet, lowered the sinks, created a walk-in shower.  Changed the lighting in the den so my dad could read. Put in window guards, an alarm, and outdoor lighting for my mom because the neighborhood is somewhat in decline.

Q. Do you see her often?

A. I try to visit her about every second or third day, but I talk to her every day by phone.  She is a classic case of a person aging in place. She’s a healthy, lanky, tall woman who’s always been physically strong.   But in recent years she’s started to slow down. She manages all her own affairs. I don’t think there’s a tractor strong enough to pull her from that house.

Until recently, on three sides, all her neighbors were her age or older. The lady to the left died this year at 97. The lady to the right went to a nursing home and died in her late 80s. And the lady across the street died at 90-plus. All stayed in their homes until very late. Aging in place in that neighborhood means older women living on their own.

Q. What lessons do you take from your mom’s experience?

A. Seniors fear being unable to communicate, being lonely, feeling insecure.  Especially people who all their lives have had other people around them — family, neighbors — and now they go entire days and never see anybody.

Imagine being older, a step slower, a bit more fragile. Add to that being lonely, edging to depression, and unsure about how you’re going to get everything done that you used to do. But wanting above all to stay in your own home and keep on being independent. That’s hard.

Q. What kinds of policies do you think are needed?

A. First, I’d like to see us commit as a nation to creating lifelong homes. Only 4 percent of the 65-plus population goes to a nursing home. Most are at home for a long, long time. We should make this a priority, just as we did with creating more energy efficient homes.

This could involve certifying a package of age-related home improvements — the kinds of things we did for my parents — and coming up with public and private strategies for financial support.

Second, we ought to be thinking about how we accessorize communities for an aging population. Today, we build parks for children. Imagine a park where older people would have stations for exercise. Think about age-appropriate recreation facilities. Think about how we make transit available, so people who no longer drive can get to the doctor.

As we build new communities we should focus on walkability — making sure that older people can walk to facilities they need, like groceries and pharmacies.

Q. Can you point to examples?

A. There are communities that are now rethinking zoning policies so that granny flats can be built on the same lots as larger size homes. Davis, Calif., has rethought its zoning codes with that in mind.

There are places using the high school library as the community library. So, elderly people can work there or volunteer there and interface with the next generation.

I think we’ll be recycling older communities in many parts of the U.S. — clearing away obsolete buildings and reconfiguring them as elderly housing. The recession has created a lot of sites that are no longer economically viable. Strip centers, even regional malls are being remade with housing for the elderly in mind.

We also need to generate prototypes for new age appropriate homes for people who are leaving McMansions and looking for a smaller home.

Q. What about affordable housing?

A. We need to double down on very successful programs that have produced affordable housing for the elderly. Low-income housing tax credits — we need more. And HUD’s Section 202 (supportive housing for the elderly) program — we need more of that. In some respects, this is the least problematic area because we know what to do — we just need to do more of it.

What we don’t know how to do very well is help people who are middle-class but who are about to fall off the dual cliff of aging and frailty while living on fixed incomes and aging in place.

Q. Yet, this is an era of budget cuts. How do you make the case for more financial assistance for programs of this kind?

A. As a country, we owe it to our seniors. It’s the right thing to do. It is unacceptable to leave a large segment of the population on their own at the most frail time of their lives. I also think we can make the case that cost savings can be achieved by keeping people living independently as long as possible instead of going to assisted-living or nursing home facilities.

Q. What about the suburbs?

A. The baby boomers are the first American suburban generation. But the suburbs are the worst place to age because they’re so unwalkable and totally dependent on the automobile. Living in a cul de sac is really hard when you lose access to your car. So these communities have to think of new strategies.

Q. One of the authors in your book writes about his personal longevity plan.   Do you have one?

A. I turned 65 this year and I do have a plan that involves daily exercise and fitness. My personal role models are people who don’t think about retirement but have created either businesses or activities that will allow them to be active until the very end.

I will always be based in San Antonio.  I live in my grandfather’s old house, which I refurbished, one mile away from where I grew up and one block away from our neighborhood church. When you give this much to a place it becomes part of you and there are a lot of things you don’t want to abandon.