Capitol Hill has been relatively quiet recently because members of Congress are back home pounding the pavement stumping for votes. With election day only a few weeks away, now is a great time for me to blog about the important role older Americans will play in the upcoming election. With a rapidly expanding senior population, politicians across the country will have to court seniors if they hope to be victorious. Consequently, older adults are in a great position to make elected officials take notice of the issues important to them, whether that’s Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security or affordable housing.
First, seniors are in an advantageous position to be heard because they are one of the biggest voting blocks in the country. According to the United States Census Bureau, 70 percent of seniors (65+) turned out to vote in the 2016 presidential election, and in a recently conducted poll, 74 percent of seniors say they plan to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. As statistics demonstrate, seniors keep showing up at the polls in large percentages, and the number of older Americans keeps rising. This translates to one important point; our leaders running for political office should be paying attention to the issues important to a good percentage of the electorate: A demographic group which continuously grows!
So why are the 2018 midterm elections so important for seniors? During the past two years our elected representatives in Washington D.C. have debated legislation with major implications for older adults. For example, in 2017 Congress and the administration put forth serious proposals that would have negatively impacted older Americans. These include repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, cutting affordable housing and the enactment of tax reform legislation. Fortunately, with the exception of the tax reform legislation, these bills never became law. On a positive note, the 2018 government funding bill included more than $100 million dollars for the creation of additional low-income seniors housing. These policies play a critical role in the daily lives of older Americans, and illustrate why seniors’ activism is so important.
One state where seniors can definitely make their voices heard is in Florida, home to about 4 million seniors and the site of a hotly contested Senate race. A state whose population is 20 percent seniors is in a great position to demand that candidates running for public office protect the needs of older Americans. In the 2014 Florida midterm elections voters 50 and over accounted for a whopping 67 percent of ballots cast. Furthermore, a recently conducted poll of Florida residents ages 50 and over revealed that 82 percent of respondents reported Social Security as a very important issue, coupled with 74 percent for Medicare. Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer said, “Candidates who ignore the issues that matter to voters age 50 and up do so at their own peril,” and “Older voters were decisive in the last two elections, and they will likely be decisive this year as well.”
Older Americans should take the time to learn about the positions of candidates running for office. Go to town hall meetings where candidates take questions from constituents. Ask the candidate if they are going to cut financial resources from important senior programs. Remind elected officials that your contributions to the Social Security Trust Fund were not intended to pay for other government programs.
When Congress returns from election day, lawmakers might feel more emboldened to make big policy changes to senior programs that impact healthcare, nutrition, housing and income security.
Now is the time when every American should make their voice heard, especially seniors!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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