Marvin Schotland Op-Ed in LA Daily News: Our Older Adults Need a Hand, Not The Back of a Hand

To read the article on Los Angeles Daily News‘ website, click here.

Our Older Adults Need a Hand, Not The Back of a Hand

by Marvin I. Schotland, Foundation President & CEO

I ate dinner last night. There will be food on my table again this evening. My housing is secure. I have access to quality healthcare.

These and numerous other basic human needs seem fundamental, even inalienable. But for a vast and rapidly expanding segment of older Angelenos – a demographic into which I fall – they increasingly are growing beyond reach. The poverty rate among Los Angeles seniors is rising, fueled by the continuing impact of COVID-19, surging inflation, and housing unaffordability across the region, among other factors.

By some measures, including a study from the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center, older-adult poverty in the Los Angeles area stands at nearly one in three seniors – the highest level in the state. Without aggressive intervention, this figure could mushroom further, because the “graying” population is forecast to double in size during the next 20 years.

Confronted by hard choices on all sides – Rent or groceries? The utility bill or prescription medication? – limited incomes and scant savings drive these seniors little by little closer to the margins. The number of people 62 and over experiencing homelessness is rising faster than any other age group. Researchers say that 76 percent of Baby Boomers have less than $100,000 set aside for their golden years.

These factors constrain basic medical care and contribute to poor health outcomes, including chronic disease and mortality. Among older adults, poverty is linked to increased risk of disability, physical and cognitive decline, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and homelessness.

Los Angeles routinely ranks among the highest cost of living cities in the nation. Consequently, those obstacles to quality of life and dignity for seniors do not just affect those with incomes that fall below Federal Poverty Level (FPL) guidelines. The same challenges exist among the “hidden poor,” the one-quarter of all seniors locally who live above the FPL but below the Elder Economic Security Standard. That index pegs as two times more likely the number of seniors who self-report being in poor or marginally fair health, depressed, or unable to get timely healthcare, compared to their wealthier counterparts.

At a time when we face a burgeoning list of pressing societal issues, caring for older adults – ensuring there are resources for them to age in place with dignity – needs to be placed among the most urgent. There are no magic bullets, no single prescription for addressing this compounding problem. Instead, it’s going to require an increasingly bold, aggressive slate of solutions: expanding and better coordinating federal, state and local public safety net of services; funding from corporate and private foundation sources that can substantially leverage programs; and innovative programs from nonprofit providers.

An example of such forward-thinking responses is the efforts of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), which serves Latino seniors and families in Boyle Heights and Eastside Los Angeles. Many of their senior clients are eligible for benefits, but either do not know how to apply or have difficulty applying for and enrolling in these benefit programs, often due to language or other barriers.

This, in part, is why the institution I am proud to lead, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, recently awarded grants of $1 million to five community nonprofits – MAOF, as well as the L.A. LGBT Center, ONEgeneration, Partners in Care Foundation and St. Vincent Meal on Wheels – for assistance to low-income older adults through access to food, healthcare, housing, and supportive care to live independently and age with dignity. Specifically, the MAOF grant will help 1,200 older adults to enroll in services at meal sites, food pantries, and multipurpose centers to access essential food, health, and economic benefits. Another case in point is funding expansion of ONEgeneration’s suite of “wrap-around” older adult services. It will enable the Van Nuys-based organization to increase its assistance to seniors experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness, its adult day care for low-income seniors, and its new food bank and mobile food pantry that feeds over 8,000 people each month.

Notably, these grants all reflect a commitment to equity, with funds targeted to support diverse and impacted communities across metropolitan Los Angeles. Older adult poverty doesn’t differentiate by geography, ethnicity or identity group. Neither should efforts responding to this urgent need.

The challenge is great, and caring for our elders is incumbent upon us all. That downtrodden and impoverished older person – increasingly boxed into the corner where poverty lurks – deserves our respect and a helping hand. With an aging population, we need renewed commitment to building a society that supports our elders. Turning our backs is not an option, so do not look away.

To read the article on Los Angeles Daily News‘ website, click here.