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Cheryl Jefferson walks the walk. “You can’t just sit back and talk and expect change,” says Jefferson, an AARP Florida advocacy volunteer and member of its Executive Council. “You’ve got to actually get out there and do something.”
The 68-year-old retired mortgage banker, of Jacksonville, has traveled to Tallahassee to talk with lawmakers and followed up with phone calls about issues important to older Floridians, such as lowering prescription drug prices. She says she has been struck by how receptive legislators and their staff are. While well-connected lobbyists with access to campaign cash “absolutely have quite a bit of power” in the Legislature, average citizens who make an effort to be heard are also taken very seriously, Jefferson reports.
When the Legislature opens its 60-day annual session on Jan. 11, AARP Florida and its volunteers will be advocating for long-term care reform and increased funding for home- and community- based services.
Advocates will also continue to champion improvements to the adult guardianship system, consumer protections and other issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We want to keep people posted throughout the session about what’s going on,” says Jeff Johnson, state director for AARP Florida. “The Legislature does a lot that affects the lives of Floridians, and most of the time people don’t realize they have an opportunity to influence legislation.”
By signing up for the “AARP Advocate” newsletter, you can receive regular updates on key legislation that AARP will track throughout the 2022 regular session. Go to https://action.aarp.org/sign and select the “AARP Advocate” option for Florida. You can also email FLAARP@aarp.org
Ken Thomas, 67, of Boca Raton, an advocacy volunteer since 2010 and former AARP Florida volunteer state president, has testified before legislative committees on issues such as livable communities and aging in place.
He works mostly by phone, email and, now, via Zoom. His advice for would-be advocates: Don’t be disappointed if you wind up talking to a legislative staff member instead of the lawmaker.
“I think, in many instances, you can get more done by talking to the staffer, because the legislator is quite often in a hurry,” Thomas observes. “The staffers are the ones who do the research and present issues to a lawmaker.”
It helps that AARP is so respected in Tallahassee, says Thomas, now the AARP regional volunteer director for Florida and six other states.
“When you say you’re with AARP, they seem more interested and attentive. They know we don’t come crying wolf or in a partisan fashion. You come focused on issues.”
Lawmakers and their staff also know that older Floridians wield clout at the ballot box, Johnson says. “There’s probably no district in the state without a significant population of over 50. Older voters show up. And AARP members are even more likely to show up to vote.”
Floridians age 50-plus make up about 40 percent of the state’s population, but they cast more than 60 percent of the votes during the 2020 election, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Interested in becoming an AARP Florida advocacy volunteer? Email email@example.com or call 866-595-7678.
Tom Scherberger is a writer living in Tampa.
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