Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Granny’s House Means to Me and Her Economic Security

The following blog was authored by Alyssa Best, Senior DC Program Associate at Wider Opportunities for Women.

In the past 6 months, I’ve experienced the excitement and anxiety of becoming a first-time homeowner – packing up my items to move into a much bigger space – and witnessing my 89-year-old grandmother, “Granny,” sell the house she’s owned and occupied since the 1960s – packing up her antique and treasured items to move into a small, one-bedroom senior living facility.

I have to admit that it’s been hard for me and others in the family to come to terms with the fact that Granny won’t be living the rest of her life in her house, which has served as the cornerstone of family celebrations and holidays. I grew up a mile from Granny’s house and spent much of my childhood playing in the house and the “swamp” out back.

Despite all of these happy memories, I’m excited that Granny will have a new place to make friends and have people to look out for her. Most of all, the sale of Granny’s house (which was paid off years ago) means that she will have additional savings to draw on as she continues to age. While Granny collects other retirement benefits, the sale of this asset provides a huge cushion enabling her to live comfortably and to receive quality medical care.

Even when Granny lived in her house, her expenses were significantly lower because she owned a home without a mortgage for many years. According to Wider Opportunities for Women’s Elder Economic Security Initiative™, an owner without a mortgage pays on average $376/month compared to a renter paying $705/month. It’s easy to see how once homeowners have paid off their mortgages and continue to age in place, there is a greater opportunity for their savings to accumulate over the long term.

This Memorial Day, I’m visiting my grandmother in her new apartment for the first time. It’s going to be a strange experience driving to a new place and seeing familiar furniture pieces configured in a new and unfamiliar space. Most of all, I will miss my grandmother standing by her porch waving goodbye as I pull out of the driveway. However, I can have peace of mind knowing that Granny is being taken care of in this next phase of her life as I drive to my new home – an asset that will hopefully contribute to my economic security for years to come.

Answering Tough Questions On America's Budget Matters

The following post was authored by Peter Notarstefano, Director of Home & Community-based Services at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA).

Wider Opportunities for Women's (WOW) blogging event America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours) highlights some difficult questions that the leaders of our nation, both Republicans, Democrats and Independents must answer for us to grow as a nation.

Many Americans bought houses that they couldn’t afford or have massive credit card debt. We teach history, mathematics, English and other important subjects in elementary and high school, yet we don’t teach personal finances. My 85 year old mother tells me stories of the World War II days when they had rationing books, and couldn’t buy certain items because the country was focused on winning a war. We had great leaders then, and the American people followed the example of their leaders. It took tough, unpopular decisions to deal with a difficult time in history.

To answer the question, “What can President Obama and Congress do to help Americans be economically secure while balancing the budget?” All I can say is that he needs to listen to Americans, be straightforward concerning what we can afford, and what we can’t afford, and finally make the tough decisions. He needs to be proactive, and not just move the decision process to a presidential commission.

Concerning the question, “What do President Obama and Congress need to know about your budget – or that of those you represent?” Well, as a son, he needs to know that I worry about the quality of life that my 85 year old mother will have living in New York City where electric, heating expenses, transportation, food and health care expenses are overwhelming. She lives on a small Social Security check, and is not eligible for Medicaid. Twenty-five percent of her income goes to pay the cost of a Medicare supplemental policy.

As a father, I worry about the high cost of a college education for my daughter, and the financial burden of paying off student loans. For my son, I worry about the high cost of health insurance and a volatile job market. For my wife and I, my worry is that we will not be able to retire, and the cost of our health care when we are seniors will be impossible to manage.

As an advocate for home and community-based services at the American Association of Homes and services for the Aging, I am concerned that reductions in payments to all providers of services for older adults will be cut to the point of having a negative impact on the quality of services. As a civilized society, we cannot sacrifice the care we give to our children, elderly parents and persons with disabilities in order to have a quick fix to balancing a budget.

Solve the Deficit Problem by Making Taxpayers of the Unemployed

The following blog was authored by Susan Rees, Director of  National Policy & Projects
at Wider Opportunities for Women.

The most painless way to get our budget back into balance is to create jobs for America’s 15 million unemployed and the millions more who have given up looking for work. Not only will they be better able to support their families and become self-fulfilled citizens themselves, but they will resume paying taxes, including the payroll taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare.

A full employment strategy should be certain to consider the issues facing older workers who are having particular difficulty finding employment in this recession. Only 12% of workers over age 50 unemployed in April 2009 had found work in March of this year, compared to 29% of workers age 30-49, according to a survey by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers. This looks a lot like forced early retirement to me. Then there are those who willingly retired before their normal retirement age but found their retirement accounts decimated by the recession. Now they also need work, often in a new field or a part-time job, just to stay even.

Job creation is a win-win as far as our budget deficit goes. To revitalize our economy over the long run we need “all hands on deck,” as President Obama says. Buckminster Fuller once said if you put a thousand people to work just thinking, one of them will come up with an idea to pay all the rest.

We have plenty of work that needs to be done while we wait for the promised new green economy to take hold. There is tutoring and mentoring for school children, early childhood education and day care, services for the sick and isolated, staffing for recreation and arts programs, the list goes on and on. One legislative solution is the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) that would create or save a million jobs providing needed community services in nonprofits and public agencies. For those who need a job and new skills, it would fund 50,000 on-the-job training slots with private employers.

Let’s give our people productive work. It’s time to turn this lemon of an economy into lemonade.

Benefits Matter to Older Americans’ Budgets and Health

The following blog was co-authored by Ramsey Alwin and Brandy Baeur
of the National Council on Aging

Last year Della Davis, a senior in Saginaw, Michigan, frequently sought free meals at soup kitchens, and struggled to pay for her medications and utilities. After being screened with BenefitsCheckUp® – a free, confidential online tool from the National Council on Aging that helps Medicare beneficiaries determine their eligibility for public benefits programs – Ms. Davis is now receiving over $1,600 a year to help pay for food, prescriptions and household utilities.

Unfortunately, Ms. Davis’s circumstances are not unique. Over 11 million older Americans struggle every day to make ends meet, with the economic downturn only worsening their precarious situations. Consider this:

• 31% of adults aged 65 and older get by on an income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (200% FPL = $21,660 for an individual). Those numbers rise sharply for seniors aged 75+.

• Women fare worse than men, and communities of color are disproportionately represented amongst those living in poverty. For example, almost 50% of elderly African-American women have incomes below 200% FPL.

• 96% of Americans aged 65-69 with an income below poverty have retirement savings of less than $10,000.

For these seniors, public benefits programs – such as Social Security, Medicare Savings Programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and others – can have a profound impact on quality of life. Benefits not only help them to pay for necessary medical services, prescriptions, food and home energy costs, they also can make the difference in allowing seniors to continue living independently in their homes versus in an institution. Yet in times of economic leanness, the President and Congress often hear calls to cut/scale back public benefits programs.

This year, the theme of Older Americans Month is Age Strong! Live Long! We need to remind President Obama and Congress that achieving this goal of strength and longevity requires preserving benefits programs for economically vulnerable seniors.

Della Davis got the assistance she needed. Let’s make sure there are many more stories like hers in the future!

Could You Live on Social Security?

The following blog was written by Kate White, Executive Director, Elder Law of Michigan

As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform turns its attention to Social Security, it is vital that Washington doesn’t attempt to impose “responsibility and reform” on the backs of low income families. Social Security is the cornerstone of the safety net in the United States, providing a small income for people with disabilities, children, and older adults. Cuts to Social Security benefits would be disastrous to the people who count on them for housing and food and will dramatically impact local business owners who are paid through Social Security payments. As states and non-profits reduce and eliminate services to all tax payers, low income and middle class Americans stand the most to lose if Social Security benefits are cut. The promise and peril of our society is that the majority of citizens are just a few large unanticipated expenses away from being impoverished.

Social Security is not responsible for the federal budget deficit. In effective tax policy (and failure to settle the federal estate tax), corporate welfare, pork barrel spending, and unaccountable defense expenditures top the list of reasons we face a growing deficit. Before we look to trim spending from citizens’ pockets, Washington needs to walk a mile in the shoes of people who live on only a Social Security check. Like the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge , policy makers should try to live in their districts for a month on only their estimated Social Security payment (if they suddenly had to rely only on Social Security and couldn’t work). Even doing a rough budget of housing, food, utilities, and transportation expenses would be illuminating. A Social Security Challenge would demonstrate to policy makers how modest Social Security is and what a small part of a family’s budget it turns out to be.

Friday, May 21, 2010

WOW Shows You How to Create Your Own Blog

As we prepare for our America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours) blog event on Wednesday, May 26 we thought we'd put together a video on how to create a blog for the event. If you have any questions, please contact Alisha Howell at We look forward to your participation on the 26th!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Learn How to Blog with WOW!

Wider Opportunities for Women's (WOW) blogging event America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours) is less than two weeks away! Right now, President Obama and Congress are deciding how to balance America's budget. When making these decisions, our nation's leaders need to hear about what matters when it comes to the budgets of all Americans - young and old. Blogging is an easy way to make your voice heard.

To find out more about WOW's blog event attend one of WOW's half-hour conference calls explaining the event and how you can blog.

- Wednesday, May 19, 2010
- Thursday, May 20, 2010
- Friday, May 21, 2010
- Monday, May 24, 2010

Call time: 3 pm EDT/2 pm CDT/1 pm MDT/12 pm PDT

You will learn about blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and more!

Please RSVP to Kelly Stellrecht at with the date you plan to call in and spread the word!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

State Partner Spotlight: New Mexico

Our New Mexico partner, the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD), is hosting a series of community forums throughout their state next week. Elders and caregivers will share their personal challenges to making ends meet in the state, and give ideas on how to help New Mexico elders meet their basic needs.

Forums will take place in Albuquerque, Farmington, and Gallup. Check out the event flyers at the New Mexico Elder Economic Security Initiative web page for more information.

The New Mexico ALTSD develops programs and public policies that address the access and delivery of integrated programs and services to adults in need, older adults, and persons with disabilities throughout the state. The Department is charged with directing and managing an array of programs and services, which emphasize home- and community-based long-term care, healthy aging, and the prevention of adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The information gathered at these forums will undoubtedly inform and strengthen the New Mexico Elder Economic Security Standard Index, to be released this summer.