AARP New York is lobbying the state for millions of dollars in new spending for seniors living in rural upstate areas, including Otsego, Chenango, Schoharie and Delaware counties.
To back up the demand, the association released a report according to which older people living in rural areas are sicker, more disabled, have inadequate transportation to get to health care, limited access to nutritious food. , suffer from social isolation and are strapped for change when it comes to high speed internet.
And AARP NY says these conditions lead to premature death from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, respiratory disease, and stroke.
The AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, advocates for the interests of people 50 years of age and older.
The solutions proposed by the organization call on Albany to spend more money on 13 programs. They include state tax credits for family caregivers, money for home health workers, increased funding for nutrition programs, and subsidies for Internet services.
AARP NY did not specify how much these programs would cost or who would pay for them.
So, are the seniors in the upstate so badly off?
AARP New York Director Beth Finkel told me in a telephone interview that rural elderly people are “more isolated” than their urban counterparts and that because of the isolation “there has been more deaths of rural residents than of urban residents ”. She added: “Being isolated is the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
However, not everyone sees the situation as dire. Two local experts on aging say that some of the problems identified in the report may be real but exaggerated, and that other elements are being adequately addressed.
Terri Whitney, director of the Delaware County Office for Aging, said in a phone call that her agency was able to alleviate any issues raised by AARP NY except social isolation. .
“If someone contacts us for help, we can resolve issues like medical transportation,” Whitney said.
The county relies on neighbors helping neighbors. “We have a non-emergency medical transport system. We use a core of volunteer drivers who take people from their homes to their doctor’s appointments or to pick up prescriptions, ”Whitney said.
Regarding food, the county offers “shopping assistance so that the elderly can get the food they need or we can deliver meals to their homes,” she said.
When it comes to high speed internet, Whitney recognizes that this is a problem.
“There are a lot of places in the county where you can’t access the internet. And for a lot of people, if it’s available, they can’t afford it, ”she said.
Meanwhile, in Otsego County, Tamie Reed, director of the county office for aging, told me that rural residents “aren’t softies. They are more self-sufficient, more independent.
But Reed said “many issues are true and valid,” so she discussed the report with the county council of representatives.
“I think the report did a very good job providing information to decision makers,” Reed said.
She also points out that money is always a problem. “We get a smaller pot of funding because we are smaller communities. And it also costs twice as much to provide services in these small communities. “
Generally speaking, “we don’t prepare well for the aging process and make sure that people can live independently,” she said.
You cannot live independently without enough money. And according to the latest government data, the cost of living is rising – rapidly. The US Department of Labor said annual inflation is 6.2%. This is a 31-year high, with food, shelter, gasoline and natural gas all increasing more than expected.
AARP’s Beth Finkel said inflation is a problem for seniors living on fixed incomes.
The solution, according to Finkel, is to increase social security contributions. “AARP is a strong advocate for changing the social security formula. This year, many people on Social Security are going to see a bigger bump next year due to inflation. Is it sufficient? No, she said.
No indeed. Even the country’s best-known senior citizen took note. “Inflation is hurting Americans’ wallets, and reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” said President Joe Biden, who just turned 79.
Don Mathisen is a journalist living in Oneonta. Email him at [email protected]