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Legislative Agenda: Boost Support Services

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By Roger Fillion

Bernard Hynes was thrilled one September morning when he opened the door from his bedroom and looked into his Denver apartment. The living room and kitchen were clean. They had been a mess. Illness had left the 67-year-old Hynes unable to tidy up.

“It was like Christmas morning as a little kid when you wake up. It was so nice,” said Hynes, who quit a part-time job because of illness. “It gave me a new lease on life.”

Hynes’ apartment was cleaned thanks to the Seniors’ Resource Center, a Denver nonprofit that offers support programs for aging adults. Among the free services: deep cleaning, transportation, minor home repairs and in-home care.

The cleaning service and others are paid for through grants, including many that originate from the Older Coloradans Act.

Colorado’s older population is expected to balloon over the next 15 years—a topic that AARP Colorado hopes state lawmakers will address when they open their 2015 session on Jan. 7. Priorities include:

  • Creating an expert/citizen study group that would identify and review the impact of a rapidly growing older population in Colorado and recommend actions in response.
  • Boosting annual funding for the Older Coloradans Act to $14 million from the current $10 million.
  • Establishing a legislative task force that would make recommendations to boost the number of working Coloradans enrolled in retirement plans. A bill to do this died in the 2014 session.

 

Huge demographic shift

The study group on aging tops AARP Colorado’s wish list. The state’s 65-plus population is expected to roughly double from about 685,000 now to more than 1.2 million by 2030, according to Bob Semro, policy analyst at the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank in Denver. “This is a demographic shift unprecedented in history,” he said.

Advocates for establishing a study group predict that an aging population will place unparalleled demands on the state’s economy, state and local budgets, housing, transportation, tax revenues, Medicaid and other areas.

“It should be front and center in people’s minds. But it isn’t,” said Kelli Fritts, AARP Colorado associate director for advocacy.

The panel would investigate and analyze a range of issues resulting from this demographic shift and suggest ways that government, businesses, nonprofits and the public could respond effectively.

“These problems are going to take a very long time to fix,” Semro said.

Rich Mauro, senior legislative and policy analyst for the Denver Regional Council of Governments, a publicly funded agency, said the broad impact of an aging population has been “a somewhat secondary issue” for state lawmakers. “It’s hard to predict the outcome. But we are optimistic they will see the importance of doing this,” he said of the study group.

As for the Older Coloradans Act, AARP Colorado maintains there is a need for more money to keep up with the state’s growing older population.

“It’s never been funded where it needs to be funded,” Fritts said of the act.

If the General Assembly boosts funding under the act to $14 million, in addition to the $7 million in the general fund for some services for the aging, that would increase overall spending on such services to $21 million.

But Fritts said funding should be more than $40 million to address unmet needs.

The money would also help maintain the kind of services that Bernard Hynes might use. For example, he doesn’t have a car and must ride his bike to the store to shop. So he’s looking for an alternative to cycling home in snow and ice with bags of groceries.

The free transportation service offered by the Seniors’ Resource Center sounds attractive. “I think I might do that,” Hynes said when told about it.

Roger Fillion is a writer living in Denver.

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