OP-ED

Investing in Rhode Island's growing older population

By MAUREEN MAIGRET
Posted 10/13/21

By MAUREEN MAIGRET As Gov. McKee develops the RI 2030 Plan and he and the legislature consider investing the $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds, attention must be given to our demographics and the voices and needs of all our residents - young and

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OP-ED

Investing in Rhode Island's growing older population

Posted

As Gov. McKee develops the RI 2030 Plan and he and the legislature consider investing the $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds, attention must be given to our demographics and the voices and needs of all our residents – young and old and persons of all backgrounds must be heard. The investments made should be informed, equitable and transformational and lead to Building a Better Rhode Island.

As leaders of entities interested in the well-being of our older population, we urge state government leaders to examine the data and listen to our seniors, their families and caregivers. This will inform planning for the types of services and investments needed to support our older population and their wishes to thrive, remain living at home and the community as desired, and access quality facility care when needed.

The state’s older population is growing. Currently persons 65 comprise 17.6% of our residents. In some communities persons age 65 have already reached 20% and by 2030 persons 65 will reach 25% (R.I. Office of Healthy Aging.) Like the rest of the state, our older residents have become more diverse. They contribute enormously to the state’s social and economic fabric and quality of life. Yet, the data shows more are poorer and face economic insecurity. In 2020, one out of four older Rhode Islanders had income at or below the Federal Poverty Level of $12,880.  Basic expenses for a single older homeowner in good health and without a mortgage are $22,188 according to the Elder Index with higher costs for those who rent or have mortgages.

Informed by data and by listening to older persons with whom we work, we ask state leaders to consider the following recommendations as they develop policy and funding plans.

1. Adopt a goal of making the state livable and friendly for all ages. Community features like safe streets with adequate public transportation options, affordable housing and accessible public spaces are good for everyone and serve to stimulate our economy.

2. Provide funding to expand cost-effective programs such as local community senior centers that work to keep older adults healthy, informed and connected, and programs of mutual assistance like local Villages that help older adults to be able to live independently at home.

 3. Recognize the value of our caregiver workforce by providing a living wage for long-term service workers. The Administration on Community Living reports almost 70% of persons age 65 today will need some type of long term care – help to live at home or to receive facility care. Long-term care providers are challenged by the shortage of direct care workers.  Addressing the worker shortage by investing in a living wage initiative will help ensure an adequate workforce to meet both current and increasing needs.

4. Target robust outreach efforts to areas with higher percentages of lower-income older adults and higher numbers of persons of color and limited English. Where one lives is a major factor in systemic inequalities for older adults. We need to better inform all residents of the many existing assistance programs and also to learn from them what is important in terms of their needs.

5. Promote and invest in programs such as respite services and caregiver training and improve supports for caregivers of all ages in recognition of their value and the work they do all of which is unpaid.

Rhode Island has an opportunity to make long-lasting improvements in the quality of life for our residents especially those with lower incomes and those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In the long run such investments will Build a Better Rhode Island for all ages.

Now working as an aging policy consultant, Maureen Maigret of Warwick is a former State Representative. Her colleagues, Bill Flynn from the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI and Caroline Gangji from the Village Common of RI, contributed to this commentary.

aging, elderly

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