Q&A: Older Americans Month
Q: Why is the month of May observed as Older Americans Month?
A: More than a half-century ago, President John F. Kennedy encouraged Americans to pay tribute to older citizens and their lifetime contributions of work and service. He recognized parents and grandparents hand down the values and traditions of our American heritage from one generation to the next. Our nation’s older citizens have enriched our neighborhoods and communities through their work ethic and sacrifice to expand the promise of prosperity and defend freedom and liberty. At that time, President Kennedy also wanted to call attention to the challenges facing the 17 million Americans age 65 and older, of whom about one-third lived in poverty. The poverty rate today for this demographic has dropped significantly to roughly 10 percent. In 11 years, all of America’s baby boomers will reach age 65 and older, making up 21 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This presents additional demands on the nation’s health care system, specifically for home health care services, nursing homes and public retirement programs.
In 2019, Older Americans Month continues a 56-year tradition to celebrate the achievements in parenting, caregiving and working contributed by the nation’s older citizens. Society is indebted for their years in the workforce and civic contributions to help build better, stronger communities. From farming, to the trades, business, finance, medicine, education, law and public or military service, the U.S. economy benefits from older Americans who are still working. In 2016, 20 percent of older Iowans — 102,980 people — were on the job.
As a society, we also recognize the needs of older citizens in the 21st century. Obtaining access to affordable health care and housing, staying connected with friends and family members and maintaining ties and contributions to civic life are as important as ever. Hundreds of thousands of older residents call Iowa home, from the Missouri to the Mississippi Rivers, in all 99 counties. Recent census figures count 514,215 Iowa residents age 65 and older, accounting for more than 16 percent of the state’s population. Iowans are civic-minded, especially older generations. That’s reflected by statistics showing more than 83 percent of Iowans age 65 and older were registered to vote in the last presidential election. And one-fifth of Iowans age 65 and older are military veterans. Older generations have shown the next generation how to pay it forward throughout their lifetimes. As Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator, I’m working to make sure society fulfills its obligations to pay back older citizens with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Q: How does your work in the Senate help improve the lives of older Iowans?
A: As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’ve got both hands on the policy steering wheel when it comes to bread-and-butter issues affecting older citizens. Social Security and Medicare are woven into the social fabric of America. Older Americans have paid into these systems their entire lives and they depend upon them in retirement. That’s one reason I oppose unraveling the Medicare safety net with radical proposals that would outlaw private health insurance under a slogan called “Medicare for All.” I won’t support extreme plans that would shrink access to health care for the nation’s elderly and double taxes on their children and grandchildren to pay for it. Instead, I’m working on bipartisan efforts to improve the quality of life for older Iowans, including legislation that would lower drug expenses for Medicare patients, expand retirement savings vehicles, improve nursing home care, and protect high-quality, affordable health care in rural America. As former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I wrote new laws, like the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, to curb elder abuse and beef up tools and resources within local communities to help prevent financial fraud and exploitation of older citizens. For those Iowans who enjoy working and need to continue working to pay the bills, I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen age-related workplace discrimination laws. Lastly, I understand how important infrastructure is to economic vitality and our way of life in Iowa. From improving power grids and public utilities to fixing roads and bridges, expanding broadband, updating dams and repairing levees, the infrastructure to-do list is brimming with priorities. As Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator, I recognize that investing in infrastructure, including broadband technology, is an important way to keep older Americans connected in society, from accessing tele-health services to receiving food and medicine home deliveries or communicating online with loved ones who live far away. As I continue my 99 county meetings across the state, I welcome the feedback and ideas I get from local residents to help make our communities safer and stronger for Iowans of all ages.