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The Advocacy Landscape of Better Aging

Jess Stonefield November 7, 2018

Today’s political climate is tense. It often feels like the country is split in half—Republicans on the right and Democrats on the left, with little in between. In the midst of it all, are the policies and the politics of better aging.

Advocacy teams and organizations in our field are working to advance the quality of life for older Americans—and the results of their efforts have an impact on our work and the lives of the people we serve.

If you’re new to the longevity market or just want to brush up on your understanding, here’s an overview of the longevity advocacy landscape.

Critical Issues on the Longevity Market Agenda

At any given time, there are multiple advocacy efforts going on in our industry. Just this year, industry organizations have backed policy positions on a range of issues, including funding for Medicare and Medicaid, employment opportunities, age discrimination, financial fraud, affordable housing, the cost of long-term care and more.

For instance, AARP has researched incentivizing emergency savings, the Elder Justice Coalition testified in Congress in support of funding for protections against elder abuse, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging encouraged Congress to reauthorize the Money Follows the Person program. In past weeks, a several aging advocacy organizations have joined a coalition speaking out against the Trump Administration’s proposed “Public Charge” rule for immigrants.

Right now, the industry is working for improvements to the Older Americans Act (OAA), which is up for renewal in FY2019. Many in the field would agree that a lack of unity among longevity market leaders contributed to delays and problems during the 2010 reauthorization process. This year, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO) is seeking increased funding for OAA programs and a bipartisan budget, which will ensure a more stable future for the program.

Another piece of legislation in the works: the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, an offshoot of the CARE Act that requires the government to develop a strategy to recognize and support family caregivers. Yes, this is just a bill to create a strategy—one that will likely take 18 months of advocacy on the part of our industry to actually enact.

Key Players in Influencing Policy and Driving Change

Just as there are many issues impacting the longevity market, there are many players influencing policy.

In addition to the heavyweight AARP’s Public Policy Institute, organizations like the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the American Society on Aging (ASA) and LeadingAge—as well as hundreds of other issue-focused organizations like SAGE (rights for LGBT seniors), Justice in Aging (fighting senior poverty), Caring Across Generations (supporting caregivers) and the Alzheimer’s Association—are churning their gears daily to keep aging issues at the forefront of the lawmakers’ agenda. In addition, umbrella groups like the 70-member LCAO mentioned above help bring stakeholders together to make even greater inroads in aging-related policy.

Even with cooperation within the field, it’s imperative to have friends in Congress who “get it” The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, for instance, partners with longevity market organizations to set policy priorities and get them enacted. (Their website includes resources and links to various aging organizations for those new to the advocacy world.)

Not surprisingly, the most successful advocacy campaigns are bipartisan, involving hard work from all fronts to establish—and agree upon—the best outcomes for aging Americans.

Working Together for the Win

Some of the biggest wins we’ve experienced for aging Americans have come when the industry worked together for a united cause.

For example, in FY2018, the White House’s proposed a budget eliminated funding for a wide range of programs aimed at helping older Americans. One of those programs was the well-known program Meals on Wheels. The aging industry came together to create a broad campaign against the budget proposal—including inviting Congress people to go on Meals on Wheels deliveries. The results? Not only did Congress reject the budget cuts, they passed a bipartisan agreement that dramatically increased support for aging Americans, including an additional $19 million to Meals on Wheels alone.

That is the power of advocacy.

Advocacy is arduous and ongoing work—but it’s vital to support older Americans and the industry that serves them. If you’re new to advocacy or want to learn more about the issues impacting aging Americans, visit AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

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Jess Stonefield

Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, mental health and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Changing Aging, The Mighty and Next Avenue. She is passionate about impact investing and the greater concept of “equitable equity”—spreading wealth to all levels of our society. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.

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