This editorial is the sixth in a series on issues facing Minnesota’s aging population.
Fifty-four years ago the federal government, via the Older Americans Act, pledged to ensure equal opportunity to “the fair and free enjoyment” of adequate income in retirement for all Americans.
The mainstay to this pledge — Social Security — was in place for 30 years prior to passing the OAA. The 1965 legislation added to the possibility that all Americans could live free of economic hardship in their older years by funding critical services like meals, senior centers, health promotion, caregiver support, transportation, legal services and more.
Over the years, Older Americans Act programs have provided millions of seniors, many who are low-income, with resources to help reduce hunger, homelessness and isolation and maintain dignity, health and independence.
Recent statistics on the economic condition of older Americans, however, show that the government’s pledge to ensure adequate income in retirement is being greatly challenged.
The rising cost of products and services (especially health-related), increasing housing rental rates and property taxes, and longer life expectancy are stressing retirement funds. Add to this the fact that most baby boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) have not planned well — or at all — for financial security in their later years.
According to a report “Boomer Expectations for Retirement” released this year by the Insured Retirement Institute, most current retirees rely heavily on monthly Social Security payments to cover their living expenses. At an average of $14,000 a year, Social Security alone won’t keep seniors from falling into poverty and relying heavily on government services and programs.
In Minnesota, 1 in 5 seniors report Social Security as their only source of income, according to the Elder Economic Security Initiative report issued by the University of Massachusetts Gerontology Institute. The majority of these are women.
It is becoming clear that measures beyond those traditionally offered need to be taken in order for the federal government to uphold its pledge of adequate retirement income for all. Also, local steps need to be taken if the pledge to increase and promote the economic assets and well-being of Minnesota’s elderly (included as part of the MN 2030 Looking Forward effort sponsored by the Minnesota Board on Aging and the Minnesota Department of Human Services) are to become a reality.
We see no reason to doubt the seriousness or sincerity of these commitments, especially the one coming from local officials. So we offer some immediate measures to move the state in the direction of fully meeting the pledges:
— Increase funding to the state’s Rehabilitation Loan Program, which provides deferred, forgivable loans for health, safety and energy efficiency improvements for very low-income homeowners, including owners of manufactured homes. More than 40 percent of households served by this program are seniors who want to stay in their homes.
— Fully fund the Border-to-Border Broadband Program recognized as a critical factor in the economic and social sustainability of all rural Minnesota communities, which many senior citizens call home. The $40 million in grants approved by the 2019 Legislature will give the program a substantial start in achieving the state’s 2026 goal of reaching everyone with reliable broadband internet. But more funding is needed to see the program fully developed.
— Increase funding to regional transit and Metro Mobility operations to meet the growing demand for expanded and improved services for the state’s elderly population.
— Initiate a comprehensive study through the legislative process to determine if adjustments are needed in the Minnesota Homestead Credit Refund and Renter’s Property Tax Refund to assure that the refunds provide adequate property tax relief to low-income elderly who want to continue to live in their own homes.
— An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.