Part of the Political Issues and Policies Special Report
(This article was written with assistance from Richard Browdie, president and CEO of The Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.)
The nation awaits the unconventional Republican convention next week in Cleveland. While the upcoming political theater may be entertaining, the serious challenges facing the country, and — for our purpose here — older Americans, will land heavily on the next president, potentially the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. (I’ll discuss the Democratic convention in a week.)
As we enter convention season, the key question must be asked: When does the noise die down and when will issues that mean something to older adults make it to the stage? Or will they make it there at all?
It may well take hard, sharp-edged activism by advocates, which should begin with the drafting of the party platforms; the Republican version is a work in progress as I write. Advocates will need to work to see these issues woven into the main messages and themes of the two candidates.
We have heard next to nothing from the Republicans so far regarding long- term care and the role of unpaid family caregivers.
The Key Issues for Older Voters
What are those issues and how have they been addressed on the Republican side so far?
We have heard from Donald Trump on Social Security, in part due to the persistence of AARP with itsTake a Stand campaign. He has offered a framework position of suggesting that he could protect Social Security while reducing taxes. The next step is to put specifics into the plan.
Do Republicans propose raising the cap on earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes? Do they recommend restoring lost or forgone earnings for caregivers when determining the size of Social Security benefits?
There is a similar situation with Republican positioning on Medicare. Again, the presumptive nominee has expressed his general support for Medicare as it is. Yet a challenge for him to address is how to reconcile support for Medicare and opposition to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).
Based on the most recent report by the Medicare Trustees, the Affordable Care Act has been largely responsible for extending the solvency of Medicare by at least 12 years. In addition, the health care delivery-system reforms it has instituted are believed to be making Medicare a better-run program and more person-centered. So the issue for the Republicans might be simply: How do you decouple Medicare from the Affordable Care Act? And, would the Republicans be prepared to support the continued reforms for Medicare with their own legislation?
Long-Term Care Views?
We have heard next to nothing from the Republicans so far regarding long-term care, services and supports for those needing it and the role of unpaid family caregivers. The Republican platform will undoubtedly include a call for tax reform. Shouldn’t that tax reform include a family caregiver tax credit?
I’m hoping, too, to hear something from Donald Trump and the Republicans about housing and transportation for older Americans, or better yet, a national policy to allow as many of them to successfully age in place as possible.
What is the Republicans’ plan to deal with the chronic and growing crisis in America’s paid elder care workforce? The recent journal of the American Society on Aging put it well: Who will be there to care? The largest number of roles, performed frequently by young women with children, hover near the minimum wage. The result is that many of those providing care to the sick, frail and poor in the United States are themselves kept in poverty.
Investing in Older Americans
Can one hope that a man of business running for President who knows a thing or two about investing might see the benefit of greater federal investment in a whole array of preventive programs and services that have been proven to be effective and often reduce costs later? This includes pretty much all of the programs in the Older Americans Act, elder abuse prevention and investments in good nutrition to promote health and avert malnutrition among older adults.
Does making America great again include all older adults? Do Donald Trump and the Republican party recognize a doubling of the minority elderly population by 2030 and significant growth in the older LGBT population? Would a President Trump lead an administration recognizing that this growing segment needs to be prepared for as they age?
Here’s another question: The vast majority of older Americans will be healthy and vital, so can Donald Trump and the Republicans approach the them as resources? Will they foster policies which could lead to the lowering of unemployment among older workers and help them work longer if they wish? Will they provide tax incentives to employers helping them retain older workers by retraining and offering more flexible work schedules? And, while we’re on the subject, can we have a national volunteer policy that spans all ages?
What Older Voters Need to Do
I can envision the Republican candidate (and the Democrat) visiting senior centers or homes for older adults between now and the election. Here’s hoping that, on those occasions, we hear more than the time-worn platitudes about older adults.
At these events, and through social media, I encourage voters of all ages to ask questions in hopes of getting clear answers. This will likely be a close and contested election, and the outcome may well be decided by older voters.
Treat this election for what it is: your future, and the future of all who follow you in your family, are at stake.