by Kevin K. Johnson, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
The White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) is a conference sponsored by the Executive Office of the President of the United States which makes policy recommendations to the president and Congress regarding the aged. The goals of the conference are to promote the dignity, health and economic security of older Americans. It has been claimed that it is perhaps the best-known White House conference. The Conference is held once a decade, with the most recent conference held in earlier this month on July 13th at the White House.
Historically, in 1950, President Harry S. Truman ordered the Federal Security Agency to hold the first national conference on aging. The purpose of this initial conference was to assess the policy challenges posed by a changing populace, particularly in light of numerous changes in federal entitlement programs (such as Social Security) that had been enacted during the previous 20 years. Social Security’s goal was to assist those in need of financial assistance such as the poor, elderly, physically disabled or mentally ill.
In preparation for this decade’s conference, there were five regional conferences around the country purposed to aggregate information and recommendations for the national conference at the White House.
The regional conference took place in:
- Tampa, FL: February 19
- Phoenix, AZ: March 31
- Seattle, WA: April 2
- Cleveland, OH: April 27
- Boston, MA: May 28
I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to participate in the Cleveland, Ohio regional conference. Select this link to read about the Cleveland Regional WHCoA conference. In addition, I wrote a blog recommendation that I’ll share at a later date. From these five regional sessions, together with input from other aging leaders and older Americans around the country, common themes were identified and developed into major topic areas. Those topic areas are the following.
Retirement security is a vitally important issue. Financial security in retirement provides essential peace of mind for older Americans, but requires attention during our working lives to ensure that we are well prepared for retirement.
Healthy aging will be all the more important as baby boomers age. As medical advances progress, the opportunities for older Americans to maintain their health and vitality should progress as well and community supports, including housing, are important tools to promote this vitality.
Long-term services and supports remain a priority. Older Americans overwhelmingly prefer to remain independent in the community as they age. They need supports to do so, including a caregiving network and well-supported workforce.
Elder justice is important given that seniors, particularly the oldest older Americans, can be vulnerable to financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect. The Elder Justice Act was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, and we need to realize its vision of protecting seniors from scam artists and others seeking to take advantage of them.
In an era where cooperation in Washington is not very good, I commend President Obama for moving forward and continuing this historically important White House forum. Additionally, several Congressional representatives were in attendance throughout the day. With the sheer number of aging Americans, this is a defining time for issues regarding the health and well-being of our seniors to be aired, understood, and appropriately actioned. The entire country is being impacted. The issues of aging are important to every American, not just our elderly citizens.
The 2015 White House Conference on Aging was an opportunity to highlight the importance of supporting the aging population in the United States. President Obama became the first president to discuss elder abuse in public in a speech at this Conference. The Administration announced a number of key deliverables to help empower Americans as they age.
OLDER AMERICANS ACT (OAA)
It is worth noting that just after the WHCoA, the critical and politically contentious, reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (S. 192), was passed by a bipartisan action of the Senate on July 16th. The Older Americans Act of 1965 was the first federal level initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults. It created the National Aging Network comprising the Administration on Aging on the federal level, State Units on Aging, and Area Agencies on Aging at the local level. The network provides funding – based primarily on the percentage of an area’s population 60 and older – for nutrition and supportive home and community-based services, disease prevention/health promotion services, elder rights programs, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, and the Native American Caregiver Support Program. Since it was enacted into law in 1965, millions of our most vulnerable older Americans have relied on the services provided by the OAA for their health and economic security. These services help older Americans live independently by:
- Supporting nutrition programs, including Meals-on-Wheels;
- Providing home and community-based services, including preventive health services and transportation assistance;
- Assisting family caregivers with information and referral, counseling and respite care;
- Preventing and detecting elder abuse; and
- Providing part-time community service employment and training, including the Senior Community Employment Program (SCSEP), which has helped more than 1 million older Americans enter the workforce.
Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act is critical to the health and well-being of millions of our seniors throughout the country. It is my hope that the House will also be led to vote and approve OAA reauthorization before they recess in August. These program are essential to the millions of people who helped to build our country.
I invite you to take a look at the summary of the 2015 WHCoA by accessing the link “2015 White House Conference on Aging“.