16 year olds and up: Be a Poll Worker – Shortages Threaten Elections

Published in RINews Today on October 6, 2020

With spikes in COVID-19 cases occurring across the nation, causing concerns about the safety or health risk to workers staffing polling sites, AARP announces a new initiative to recruit persons of all ages for the upcoming presidential election to work the polling sites.  AARP along with the Association of Young Americans (AYA), Power the Polls (POP), and New Leaders Council (NLC) are working to ensure that in-person voting is still an accessible and safe option at the polls.   

“There is an urgent need for more poll workers this election, including people 50-plus and younger voters. We need to ensure that in-person voting is still an accessible and safe option,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP EVP and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer. “We will encourage all AARP members to communicate with their younger family and friends around the importance of voting and how to participate as a poll worker,” says LeaMond.

According to Pew Research Center analysis of government data, “Older People Account for Large Shares of Poll Workers and Voters in U.S. General Elections,” published on April 6, 2020, nearly six-in-ten (58%) poll workers were ages 61 and up in 2018 and 56% in 2016. Many communities faced poll worker shortages prior to the pandemic. The 2016 U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that two-thirds of jurisdictions already had a difficult time recruiting enough poll workers on Election Day.

A Call for Poll Workers 

“The poll worker shortage is an urgent issue, and we’re on the clock,” states Scott Duncombe, Power of Poll’s Co-Director. “This unprecedented shortage threatens our democracy, puts our older population at risk, and disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. This is a historic moment for first-time poll workers to sign up to protect their communities, their neighbors, and their democracy. We will keep working until there are enough poll workers and volunteers to keep polling sites open, staffed, efficient, and functioning. We must do everything we can to ensure this upcoming election is safe, fair, and accessible,” he says.

Adds Ben Brown, AYA’s Founder, “Poll workers play a critical but often overlooked role in ensuring safe elections. The pandemic has hampered recruiting efforts for poll workers, who tend to be repeat workers, and fewer poll workers means longer lines, delays, and more confusion on Election Day,” said Ben Brown, Founder of Association of Young Americans. ““

Clare Bresnahan English, NLC’s President and CEO, notes “Poll workers are the essential workers of our democratic process. All voters should feel safe and welcome when they participate in the upcoming election.”  He observes that that this intergenerational collaboration with AARP and Power the Polls allows for the recruitment of young poll workers whose identities reflect the community in which they serve.”

The Power the Polls initiative is also working with local organizations and partners to help election officials provide the necessary PPE to keep poll workers and voters safe. For more information, reach out to your local officials through workelections.com  

In August, AARP launched “Protect Voters 50+,” a comprehensive voter engagement campaign to support and protect Americans 50-plus as they vote in the 2020 elections. The campaign will help Americans over 50 votes safely, whether at home or in person. The “Protect Voters 50+” campaign will provide people with the information they need about this year’s elections, including video voters’ guides, issue briefings, direct mail, text messaging, social media and paid media.

In the Trenches…at the Polling Sites

Last month, over 2,000 persons voted at Pawtucket’s 26 polling sites, over 4,000 chose to vote by mail ballots, says Ken McGill, the City’s Registrar for over 17 years.  He estimates that it was almost triple the number of votes cast at a primary. 

Looking back, McGill says it was a struggle to get enough workers to man Pawtucket’s polling sites during the September primary.” Many of our veteran poll workers, especially those with health issues, opted out because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. 

But with Rhode Island allowing 16-year-olds to work at the polls, McGill plans to continue reaching out to youngsters to serve as election officials at the polls. 

According to McGill, like the primary Pawtucket polling officials continue to follow social distancing guidelines at the upcoming presidential election to be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.  Only a certain number of voters will be allowed into the polling site at the same time. Hand sanitizer are readily available for use by both poll workers and voters. All poll workers will be required to wear masks and voters are encouraged to also wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Also, at every poll, a person will be assigned to wipe down the booths after use and to clean and disinfect the site throughout the day and to ensure that voters are social distancing from one another.  

Nick Domings, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, says that the Secretary has made it her top priority to make voting convenient, safe and secure for the upcoming presidential election. “During the pandemic, that means providing options for casting a ballot that ensure no voter must risk their health to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Rhode Islanders can choose to either vote from home with a mail ballot, vote early in-person at their city or town hall, or vote at a polling place on Election Day,” he says.  

Secretary Gorbea has sent registered voters a mail ballot application for the November 3 general election.  But for those voters who wish to cast their ballot in-person, either early at their city/town hall or at a polling place, know that facilities will be thoroughly sanitized, single-use pens will be utilized and poll workers will be wearing personal protective equipment, notes Domings. 

Domings recommends that Rhode Island voters check the location of their polling place on vote.ri.gov, as some may have changed due to the pandemic.

Becoming a Poll Worker

“Because our older citizens are most at risk for serious complications from COVID-19, there is a definite need for poll workers this year. This is a great opportunity for young people to see how our democracy works up close. If you or someone you know wants to be a poll worker, contact your local board of canvassers or call the Board of Elections at 401-222-2345,” suggests Domings. 

Opposition Builds Against Elimination of Social Security’s Payroll Tax

Published in the Pawtucket Times on September 28, 2020

With the looming 2020 presidential elections, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) announces its first ever Presidential endorsement, throwing its support to the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris campaign. The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group, founded by James Roosevelt, Jr., the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is credited with founding Social Security, fears for the retirement program’s future survival under a second Trump term. NCPSSM’s endorsement breaks the National Committee’s 38-year tradition of steering clear of Presidential campaigns in order to focus its resources on House and Senate races.

NCPSSM support of Biden follows the endorsements of other aging advocacy groups including AARP, Social Security Works, Alliance for Retired Americans, Medicare for All, American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union.

“During the past four years, we’ve seen this president pay lip service to seniors’ needs while actively undermining their best interests, the latest example being his reckless pledge to terminate the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare,” says NCPSSM’s president and CEO Max Richtman. “As the pandemic has worsened, we have seen an abject failure to protect nursing home residents and workers, who represent 40 percent of all COVID deaths. Never in our organization’s history have we seen such a consistent level of threats to the health and retirement security of America’s seniors,” he added, noting that the most effective way to protect the solvency of Social Security is to elect Joe Biden as president,” he said.

Adds, James Roosevelt, Jr., Vice-Chairman of the National Committee’s advisory board, “By enacting Social Security, my grandfather, President Franklin Roosevelt, gave workers the promise of dignity and financial security in retirement. Thirty years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, providing older Americans with affordable, accessible health insurance. There’s a reason Social Security and Medicare have been around for 85 and 55 years, respectively. Americans value and depend on them. My father and grandfather would be outraged that President Trump and his allies want to dismantle both programs. I am 100 percent behind the National Committee’s decision to endorse Joe Biden, the candidate who can be trusted to protect seniors’ earned benefits from any attempts to undermine or privatize them.”

Trump’s Changing Policy Positions on Social Security

On Oct. 4, 2016, at vice presidential debate at Longwood University, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine noted that in 2000, Donald Trump wrote a chapter in a book, The America We Deserve, calling Social Security a” Ponzi scheme” [an investment fraud] and stating that “privatization [of the program] would be good for all of us. ”

One month before Trump formally announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, with a campaign rally and speech at Trump Tower in New York City, he tweeted, “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does.”

As a presidential candidate, Trump continued calling for protecting Social Security, long regarded as one of the most successful and popular social programs ever enacted by Congress. During a June political rally in 2016, Trump claimed, “We’re going to save your Social Security without killing it like so many people want to do” and throughout the 2016 presidential campaign repeatedly promised “not to touch” seniors’ earned benefits and to “protect your Social Security and your Medicare.”

Once in the Oval Office, Trump’s views changed. Congress was forced to block his proposed budget cuts and rule changes that would hurt Social Security beneficiaries, says Richtman.

“Trump has betrayed older Americans through his bungled response to the COVID pandemic and by blatantly breaking his promises to protect senior’s cherished social insurance programs. He has proposed more than $1 trillion in cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He has vowed to eliminate the payroll taxes that fund seniors’ retirement and health benefits if re-elected to a second term. He has urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which improved Medicare benefits and solvency. In short, the President has listened to advisors who want to dismantle the country’s most effective social safety net programs” says NCPSSM’s top official.

A Stark Warning

On August 8, Trump has signed an Executive Order, Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster, to authorize a payroll tax holiday/deferral to give American taxpayers extra cash as they deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The president’s action allows employers to stop deducting the 6.2 percent employee payroll contribution toward Social Security for the rest of the year.

An Aug. 28 IRS memo noted that employers who participate in the payroll tax holiday will then have to pay back the taxes starting in 2021. Simply put, more money will take out paychecks from Jan. 1 to April 30 in 2021 to repay the taxes owed.

Richtman warns, don’t count on payroll tax forgiveness. “Unless Congress passes legislation to address this, the workers will ow every cent of that payroll tax deferral in 2021, and employers would have to deduct more from their paychecks starting January to repay it,” her says.

NCPSSM, Democratic lawmakers, and Social Security advocacy groups don’t see Trump’s elimination of the Social Security payroll taxes as an effective economic stimulus especially to unemployed workers. This action could effectively defund the Social Security and Medicare programs could ultimately bankrupt these programs.

In the letter released on Sept. 23 , Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer said “As AARP raised in letters to Congress back in March and President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in August, we believe suspending, reducing, or eliminating contributions to Social Security will interfere with the program’s long-term funding stream… This deferral, along with the President’s recent statements on the permanent elimination of the Social Security payroll tax contribution, are engendering uncertainty among older Americans and the general public about Social Security and its ability to pay promised benefits. As such, AARP supports the resolution of Congressional disapproval.”

Trump counters NCPSSM, AARP and others condemning his Executive Order. He claims that eliminating the Social Security tax would not impact the solvency of Social Security, because the money would be shifted from the government’s general fund. Both continuing his payroll tax cut and shifting funds would require Congressional action. That, also, would require an act of Congress.

With this first time political endorsement, NCPSSM hopes to see a Democratic administration take over the White House to strengthen and expand Social Security, not weaken it by eliminating the program’s payroll taxes. “After nearly four decades of fighting to protect American seniors, the National Committee has determined that many older Americans cannot afford – let alone survive – another four years of President Trump. By endorsing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris today, we will work tirelessly to help voters of all ages understand that Trump’s promises are empty. He offers seniors a one-way ticket to nowhere. Americans deserve a President who will protect and strengthen the federal government’s commitment to older Americans.”

This article was updated on Sept. 24.

Senate Committee on Aging: Impact of Isolation and Loneliness on Seniors During COVID-19

Published in RINewsToday.com, on June 17, 2020

As the COVID-19 crisis has shuttered businesses throughout the nation, state and federal health officials scramble to stop the spread of this deadly virus. As states begin to slowly open up their economies, a growing number of researchers are finding that mandated social distancing and isolation through self-quarantine may have significantly impacted senior’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Just days ago, a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging morning hearing, chaired by Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Bob Casey (D-PA), was held to address the growing isolation and loneliness seniors across the nation are experiencing due to COVID-19 and to explore what policies can better assist those working with this vulnerable population.

The Senate Aging Committee hearing, titled, “Combating Social Isolation and Loneliness During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” pulled together a panel of experts who are supporting older adults in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, home health, and the community. On July 11, the two hour and twenty-minute hearing, at Senate Russell Office Building 253, featured a new released report published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) titled, “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care SyCommstem.”

America’s Seniors are Isolated and Lonely

According to the Washington, DC-based NASEM’s findings, nearly one quarter of older adults are socially isolated, and more than 40 percent report being lonely. During the COVID-19 pandemic, early studies have suggested that for some older adults, social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders are resulting in increased rates of social isolation and loneliness, which can have serious, even deadly, consequences for the health and well-being of our nation’s seniors. Prolonged social isolation and loneliness have been found to have adverse impacts on health comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

This hearing builds on the Aging Committee’s long-standing leadership on the issue of social isolation and loneliness, including holding the first Congressional hearing on this topic in 2017 and leading the 2020 reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), which included several policies to reduce social isolation and loneliness, says a statement issued by the Senate Aging Committee.

“As the pandemic continues and the epidemic of loneliness and isolation worsens, we run the risk of an infectious disease causing a mental health crisis. Already, calls to Maine’s mental health support line have increased an estimated 40 percent since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Collins in an opening statement.

According to Collins, isolation and loneliness also have a fiscal cost, too. The Maine Senator highlighted a 2017 paper published by AARP’s Public Policy Institute, that reported isolation among older adults increases federal spending by an estimated $6.7 billion annually, as isolated people are often sicker and have to rely more heavily on skilled nursing care.

Combating Social Isolation

In his opening statement, Casey stated: “Before COVID-19, millions of seniors faced social isolation and loneliness every day, we know that. Now, they are looking at relatives through windowpanes. He urged his Senate colleagues to support his legislation, which would combat the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing additional funding to expand senior nutrition programs and SNAP delivery and combat social isolation through the purchase of technology by nursing homes so residents can connect with their loved ones.”

During the hearing, Betsy Sawyer-Manter, President and CEO of SeniorsPlus in Lewiston, Maine, an agency that oversees the Area Agency on Aging’s (AAA) nutrition services, caregiver services, Alzheimer’s respite, Medicare, counseling, and health and wellness programs, discussed her work to shift to virtual programming in place of home visits and to scale up the nutrition program to meet growing needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She told the committee how these practices have helped to combat social isolation for older adults.

Najja Orr, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), discussed the steps PCA has taken to help seniors during this public health crisis, including their work to strengthen their home-delivered meal program. He called for increased funding and education to bridge the digital divide in communities as the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted many programs and resources to online platforms. Additionally, Orr urged Congress to expand flexibility of funding awarded to states and AAA’s through the Older Americans Act, which would allow local governments and agencies to better meet the needs specific to their communities.

Carla Perissinotto, MD, associate chief for Geriatrics Clinical Programs at the University of California San Francisco, who has studied the health impacts of loneliness on seniors for a decade, noted that “the prevalence rates for loneliness and isolation range from 20 percent to 50 percent and the corresponding health effects are disquieting.” According to Perissinotto, isolation and loneliness are associated with a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia. Those people with heart failure who are experiencing loneliness also have a four-fold increase in the risk of death, a 68 percent increased risk of hospitalization and a 57 percent increase in risk of hospitalization use.

Perissinotto expressed concern to the committee about the downstream health effects of the pandemic. “Seemingly overnight, we saw our social structures dissolve as we were all forced to socially distance ourselves,” she says. “The challenge of all of this is that to protect our lives and health now, we have had to subject ourselves and others to the potential risks that we may be worsening our health and shortening our life expectancies in the future.”

Although video and internet technology are being used to communicate with those shuttered in their homes and nursing home and assisted living facilities, a large number of seniors do not have access to these technologies, says Perissinotto. These technologies are especially difficult for the hearing and visionally impaired persons to use, she says.

Finally, Dr. Peter Reed, Director of the Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada Reno, discussed a portal he created for older adults in Nevada to easily communicate their needs in areas including telehealth, social support, and food and medicine. This portal, called the Nevada COVID-19 Aging Network Rapid Response (Nevada CAN), was launched on April 1st and has served hundreds of seniors during the pandemic.

Ending Legislative Gridlock in the Senate

COVID-19 related legislative proposals await consideration in the Senate. As the Presidential election approaches, voters must demand that the Senate end legislative gridlock, allowing swift bipartisan action to pass legislative proposal that will help seniors affected by the COVID-19 virus. We can’t sit back and wait.
To purchase a copy of NASEM’s “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System,” go to
https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25663/social-isolation-and-loneliness-in-older-adults-opportunities-for-the .

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.