Organizers of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging are planning a series of regional forums for policy experts and advocates in preparation for the once-a-decade conference.
A White House press release said the forums "will allow us to hear directly from the public on issues such as ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and support, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect. They will also help us to reach older Americans and their caregivers, advocates, and other stakeholders where they live."
Dates and Locations for the Forums
No date for the conference has been set, and funds for it were not included in the FY2015 federal budget. Nevertheless, plans are proceeding. The regional forums are co-sponsored by AARP and planned with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, according to the White House press release.
The forums will be held as follows:
- February 19, Tampa, Fla.
- March 31, Phoenix, Ariz.
- April 9, Seattle, Wash.
- April 27, Cleveland, Ohio
- May 28, Boston, Mass.
The topics for each forum have not been announced. They will address the four broad policy areas identified for the conference: healthy aging, long-term services and supports, retirement security and elder justice. Participation in the forums is by invitation only, but "all of the events will be live webcast to engage as many people as possible," the White House said.
Planning So Far
Organizers are setting the agenda, reaching out to interest groups and gathering ideas from the general public through the conference website and social media.
Nora Super, executive director of the conference, has a deep background in public policy: she was Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and before that, Director of Health and Long-Term Care for AARP.
Since her appointment last summer, Super has been traveling the country holding listening sessions with stakeholders to shape the agenda and format of the conference. Among the groups she's visited: the California Commission on Aging, the Older Women's League in Chicago and the LeadingAge conference in Nashville.
A Long History
The original National Conference on Aging was held in 1950 at the behest of President Truman, who felt it was time to fully assess the needs of America's aging population. The first White House Conference on Aging was held in 1961, and there have been four since. Traditionally, the conference has hosted hundreds — sometimes thousands — of delegates who convened over several days to discuss and draft policy recommendations for the president and Congress.
Typically, the conference is funded through the Older Americans Act, but with renewal of that legislation in limbo, it was not clear whether there would be a conference next year. The Obama Administration, however, has requested $3 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget to fund the effort. That, coupled with possible private funding, means that some sort of gathering will take place next year, albeit likely scaled back from 2005 when more than 1,200 delegates came to Washington to attend a four-day conference.
While planning is still early, some have questioned whether the conference will be effective with diminished funding and a smaller footprint. In the past, it has been a productive gathering. As James A. Lomastro wrote in Long-Term Living magazine after the last conference, "Many of the aging policy initiatives introduced by the federal government over the past 50 years have been initiated, discussed, and/or recommended by this conference." These include Medicare, Medicaid and key changes to the Social Security Act, all of which celebrate milestone anniversaries next year.
What the Experts are Expecting
Advocacy and support organizations for older adults such as National Council on Aging (NCOA) and LeadingAge (both Next Avenue content partners) are waiting to see what's planned, hopeful that it will be an effective venue for advancing the needs and interests of older Americans.
"We're hoping that there can be a huge shift in emphasis around preparing the country to age in healthy ways," said Larry Minnix, President and Chief Executive of LeadingAge. "Secondly, we’ve got to address the issue of financial security for people through various avenues (and) also encourage people to prepare better (for longer lives). "Eight percent of the country prepares for death and (only) 17 percent for living a long time," he added.
(MORE: Transforming Life As We Age)
“NCOA's focus on healthy aging and long-term services and supports align well with the issue areas that have been identified," said Marci Phillips, NCOA director for Public Policy and Advocacy. "We look forward to learning more about how we and other leaders we work with across the country can shape this important dialogue and contribute to a conference that will include meaningful outcomes for older Americans and those who serve them.”
What We Don't Know Yet
As plans evolve, five key unknowns remain:
1. When and where will the conference take place? In past years, the conference has been held over several days at a large venue in Washington, D.C. with thousands of delegates. The coming gathering may look more like the one-day White House Summit for Working Families in June 2014, with some pre-conference sessions.
2. How will it be funded? The Obama Administration requested $3 million but it was not approaved by Congress as part of the FY2015 budget. The last conference received about $7.3 million in federal funding. Private organizations may assist as federal laws permit.
3. Will President Obama attend? He is expected to, but presidential absence is not unprecedented. President Bush did not attend the conference in 2005.
4. How will the conference address the needs of boomers? In 2005, the conference was particularly focused on this cohort, anticipating that the first of the 79 million boomers would be reaching retirement age in 2011. Ten years later, their needs and those of their parents are even more acute.
5. What role will Congress have and will both parties join in? Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have played a role in past conferences. The 1961 post-conference report and extensive recommendations were delivered by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, whose members included Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater and Democratic Sen. Edmund Muskie, among others. In the current political climate, is a similar bipartisan effort too much to expect? Said Minnix: “We’re hoping that rigid politics will begin to soften around some of the needs that most every family is going to face.”
We'll report on these details as they emerge. Meanwhile, let organizers know what you'd like to see on the agenda by weighing in here.