The last of five regional sessions as part of the 2015 White House Conference on the Aging (WHCOA) will be held on Thursday at the Edward M. Kennedy Center in Boston. A date for a national conference in Washington has yet to be set though it could be announced in Boston. This conference is a marked departure from the five previous White House conferences which were organized with delegates chosen by the states. There was no money allotted to conduct the conference this year but the Obama Administration decided to have a conference anyway and to do it differently, having regional events and seeking input through the conference website. The New York State Office for the Aging held a number of community forums for input during late March. There are no delegates from the states. Those selected to go to Boston and other regional conferences were chosen by a process which isn’t clear and that has caused some grumbling though senior organizations like AARP and others were consulted.
The focus of the conference is on four key areas: retirement security, healthy aging, elder justice and long term care services. Yesterday, in Albany, Barry Kaufman, the new President of the New York State Alliance for Retirement Americans (NYSARA) held a forum with members of the organization to discuss retirement security issues. Kaufman was selected to attend the Boston event and wanted some input from his members. There was strong consensus on the need to protect Social Security and Medicare including lifting the earnings cap on Social Security. Participants discussed the importance of going on the offensive and changing the debate, noting how the discussion is always about cutting the program not expanding it or raising new revenues. I made the point that, with more older persons in the population and with the popularity of these programs, Congress should be improving them and spending more money on them.
The conference which is the sixth has been held every ten years since 1961 though there was a break of fourteen years from 1981 to 1995. The first conference in 1961 produced recommendations which led to the passage of Medicare four years later. A conference was held in 1971 and a very controversial conference was held in 1981 after the newly elected President Ronald Reagan had tried to cut Social Security benefits. Reagan addressed the conference and memorably stated that he didn’t know why anyone would think he was “an enemy of my own generation.” In those years, the conferences included delegates selected by the states and the Reagan administration was accused of trying to stack the conference will persons more favorable to its point of view. Since then the conferences have been relatively tame affairs which have not produced the kind of excitement and energy that produced major national initiatives though the 2005 conference did produce some important initiatives on elder justice for example. Other ideas discussed included programmatic efforts like aging and disability resource centers and livable communities.
Tomorrow’s event in Boston will be live-streamed. You can go to the conference website for more details on the event as well as all the activities of the White House Conference on Aging. http://www.whitehouseconferenceforaging.gov