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Conference on Aging Visits Phoenix and Seattle

A report on the caregiving and retirement security issues discussed

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) roadshow continued this week with productive regional forums in Phoenix, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash.

The five-city series, hosted by AARP, is intended to gather comments and ideas for the once-a-decade conference to be held this summer in Washington. D.C. (A date has not yet been announced.)

As with the first forum in Tampa, Fla., in February, speakers addressed four themes: healthy aging, long-term services and supports, retirement security and elder justice.

Favorite Programs Highlighted

Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, headlined Tuesday’s event in Phoenix, highlighting research and programs his agency is leading on Alzheimer’s, caregiving, volunteering and fitness for older adults. Labor Secretary Tom Perez delivered the keynote in Seattle, touting a new Obama Administration proposal to require financial advisers to put their clients’ interests first.

(MORE: Will Retirement Advisers Start Putting You First?)

In both cities, a mix of local politicians, members of Congress and federal officals welcomed the participants, using the occasion to recap their efforts on behalf of older citizens or to give a shout-out to Social Security, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) and the Older Americans Act, all programs and laws at the center of public policy debates over the future of aging.

In Phoenix, Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) challenged people’s use of the term “entitlement” to describe Social Security. “We are not entitled to Social Security, we earned Social Security,” he said.

In Seattle, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-Wash. called on older Americans to take care of their advance directives and younger Americans to educate themselves about Social Security. “If you ask an average 25-year-old if there will be Social Security when they are 65, they’ll say, ‘Nah, that’s not going to be around,'” McDermott said.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) focused her remarks on the importance of helping women save for retirement and make up for losses in income from poor wages, caregiving, divorce or the loss of a spouse. “The inequality women face early in life adds up and follows women into retirement,” she said.

(MORE: Why Women 50+ Should Take Control of Their Money)

The elephant in the room in both cities, was the elephant not in the room. None of the five elected officials who spoke are Republican. If the goal of the conference is, in part, to advance legislation to support aging, this initiative will need to engage on a bipartsian level. (To be fair, a member of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s Florida administration did speak at the Tampa forum.) Here’s hoping that the WHCOA and AARP can broaden the speaker list for the last two forums in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 27 and Boston, Mass., on May 28.

All-Star Cast of Panelists

Planned by AARP and the Leadership Conference of Aging Organizations, the panel discussions this week following the speakers featured a veritable Who’s Who in aging, including Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity; Marc Freedman of Encore.org; Laura Mosqueda, director of the National Center on Elder Abuse and Fernando Torres-Gil, director of of UCLA’s Center for Policy Research on Aging, as well as top federal officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Labor.  (Note: Encore.org and the Stanford Center on Longevity are Next Avenue content partners.)

The panelists gave brief remarks highlighting issues and initiatives they hoped would make it into the final conference report and took questions. They shared concerns and possible solutions for a myriad of problems including the dearth of retirement savings for young and old; elder abuse that goes unreported; caregivers who lack training and adequate pay and chronic illnesses like dementia which drain long-term care resources. Nora Super, Executive Director for the White House Conference on Aging, praised programs in Phoenix and Seattle that she toured which are tackling these issues.

(MORE: A Brilliant Solution to Attack Elder Financial Abuse)

Honoring Our ‘Ancient Ones’

The Labor Department’s Phyllis Borzi ended the open session in Phoenix recalling a favorite episode of Mork and Mindy that inspired her. In it, Mork explains to Orson, his cosmic supervisor, “Everything else here gets more valuable as it gets old — wine, cheese, furniture, coins — everything except people. Here they ignore their ancient ones.”  Watch the clip (minute 23:00)

The intent of the conference is to find ways to support our “ancient ones” and our not-so-ancient ones who are preparing for their later years.

If you have the time, I encourage you to watch the live stream of the upcoming Cleveland and Boston forums and to watch the past forums, available as video at AARP. If you want to participate in the online portion of the conference, visit WHCOA to send your comments and ideas and follow conference activities on Twitter @whaging


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