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.