Friday, February 25, 2011

An Advocate’s View: How Budget Cuts to Domestic Programs Hurt an Elder’s Economic Security

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to Christopher Smith, a volunteer attorney at the Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services in Detroit, Michigan. Christopher works to ensure elders are enrolled in programs and services that help them build economic security. However, those programs and services are now being threatened by budget cuts proposed in the House bill passed last Saturday. One of these crucial programs is the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which provides funds for those struggling to pay their bills to heat their homes during the winter and cool their homes in the summer.

The House passed a bill on Saturday that would cut LIHEAP funding by 66% for the remainder of the fiscal year. Christopher cautioned that less funding would result in people making impossible choices on whether to eat or heat, and also lead desperate Detroit residents to try dangerous and unconventional ways to heat their homes such as starting a fire that could get out of control. In fact, he shared that this happened a couple times already in the last few weeks. “Realistically, a LIHEAP subsidy costs far less than dispatching the fire department,” he said.

As the Senate gears up next week to debate the federal budget, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) urges you to join advocates across the country in sending a letter to Congress on the importance of crucial programs and services to millions of American families and elders as they rebuild from one of the worst economic recession's of our time.

Now is the time to take action. We encourage you to send your letter today, and include your story of how cuts will affect your community. We must show Congress how much these programs and services help low and middle-income families make ends meet.

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, February 11, 2011

WOW Offers Encore Webinar on Effective Advocacy in an Economic Downturn

This week, WOW hosted the first of two webinars focused on advocating effectively in tough budget times. Our panelists discussed proposed federal budget cuts by the Administration and Congress and effective ways to communicate with legislators to avoid cuts to services and programs that mean the most to you and your constituents. Due to popular response, we are hosting an encore webinar next Thursday, February 17 at 3 p.m. ET. Register today as there are limited spots available. 

We also wanted to take the time to remind you of our social media accounts and introduce our newest platform, Tumblr. The Elder Initiative is now using Tumblr for our online advocacy purposes in addition to Facebook and Twitter. 

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator

Friday, February 4, 2011

We Need to Measure Economic Security, Not Poverty

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), an alternative calculation of the federal poverty level recently developed by the US Census Bureau, estimates that 16% of seniors live in poverty. Although the new measure incorporates other costs, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses, it is still a measure that looks at economic deprivation, rather than economic security – the true cost of being able to make ends meet, and for elders, to age in place with dignity.

The SPM is a step in the right direction in that it acknowledges that the current system of measuring poverty is outdated. Based on food costs alone, the current federal poverty level does not incorporate geographic variability in costs of living. As an example, most recognize that it costs more for a senior in New York City to make ends meet than for one in Charleston, West Virginia. The SPM is a more accurate than the current federal poverty level since it does include a geographic variability component.

However, the Supplemental Poverty Measure does not measure economic security: “Now is the time to move past simply measuring what it means to be deprived to what it means to be secure,” WOW’s Executive Director Joan Kuriansky stated. This requires a more comprehensive measure.

Wider Opportunities for Women uses the Elder Index to look at specific costs for elders: housing, transportation, food, health care costs and miscellaneous expenses. The tool is used at the local level to look at the true costs of living and what it takes elders to be economically secure within their community. Furthermore, it can serve as a planning tool to help future retirees gauge what is needed to age in place in their community of choice.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your Health is in Your Hands

Last week, I attended a briefing  co-sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform and AARP entitled “Boomers Come of Age: Covering Early Retirees and Other 50-64 Year-olds. The briefing stressed the importance of planning for economic security in retirement. AARP’s John Rother noted that adults ages 47-65 are lacking economic security due to the loss of jobs and health insurance coverage. If this is the challenge for Americans in their 50s and 60s, then how much more of a challenge will this be for Americans over 65? 

As we know from the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), health care costs significantly affect an elder’s overall budget. The Elder Index demonstrates that health care expenses, despite access to Medicare and with or without additional long-term care needs, can be significant. As shown below, these costs can be overly burdensome for elders living on a fixed income, such as those living on Social Security payments alone. In many cases, elders go without supplemental coverage to Medicare, and thus without vital health care services, due to the high cost of premiums and co-pays according to WOW’s Economic Security & Health Care Reform Resource Guide.  

Casey Lovoy
Elder Economic Security Initiative Intern