Published in RINewsToday on August 1, 2022
The Senior Agenda Coalition of RI (SACRI) has joined 17 organizations to bring you Rhode Island’s 2022 Gubernatorial Forum where candidates will talk about senior issues. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, August 3, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. at the East Providence High School’s new 900-seat capacity auditorium. Seating is limited to 450 people, leaving space for social distancing. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m. At press time, 350 seniors and aging advocates have registered to attend in person or virtually.
“Senior issues must be viewed as a public policy priority because Rhode Island’s older population is growing dramatically,” says Bernard J. Beaudreau, SACRI’s Exec. Director, and one of the event’s organizers. According to Beaudreau, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the state’s total population of 65 years and older has grown by 20% from 152,183 in 2010 to 182,486 in 2020, adding 30,303 people in this age group. Rhode Island’s statewide planning projections also indicate that people sixty-five and older will grow to over 247,000 by 2030, an increase of 65,000 seniors over the 2020 census.
Gubernatorial candidates to delineate positions on key Senior Issues
“During the 90-minute forum, the gubernatorial candidates will share their positions on seven questions, hammered out by event cosponsors, as to how they would address a variety of policy issues impacting older Rhode Islanders,” says Beaudreau. “Attendees will learn how candidates would rebuild and sustain a viable workforce for nursing homes and homecare providers. They will also be asked about their plans for Medicaid rebalancing and expansion to improve home and community-based care opportunities while ensuring the financial viability of nursing homes,” he says.
Beaudreau says the forum also gives the gubernatorial candidates an opportunity to detail their strategies on how resources can be increased to significantly support healthy aging in the community. They will be asked by the moderator what type of assistance will be given to low-income seniors, and will they support a yearly cost-of-living adjustment to the state SSI payment and increase eligibility for the Medicare Savings Programs for seniors and people with disabilities to at least 185% FPL.
The attendees will also learn how the candidates, if elected governor, will ensure that an adequate amount of the $250 million in funding for affordable housing is allocated for seniors and how they will work to ensure equal access to high quality healthcare and information about available health care resources.
Finally, the gubernatorial candidates will be asked to make a pledge to address the needs of Rhode Island’s older population and provide the leadership and resources necessary to create and implement a Rhode Island Strategic Plan on Aging.
Recognizing the political clout of Seniors
“SACRI’s upcoming Gubernatorial Candidates’ Forum is important as older adults historically have high turnout in elections and the Forum provides an opportunity to hear the candidates’ views on issues important to seniors,” says Maureen Maigret, Chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee. “The Forum should cause candidates to take a serious look at the state’s demographics, to note how the older population is growing, and to reflect on how government can best support older adults’ desire to remain healthy and living in the community and provide quality facility care when needed,” says Maigret.
“The Forum allows us to set forth policy priorities and hold whoever is elected accountable for addressing them. An example of this is when former Governor Raimondo was elected. She had been presented with priorities for restoring budget cuts to senior services such as Meals on Wheels and some of the cuts were restored in her budgets,” Maigret noted.
SACRI’s Beaudreau says that the senior vote will influence the outcome of the upcoming primary and mid-term. “Rhode Island seniors 60 years of age and older represent 34% of all registered voters and accounted for 42% of the vote in the 2020 general election. Rhode Island seniors have higher voter participation rates than the rest of the population,” says Beaudreau, this being 77% compared to 57% for voters under 60 years of age. “We have a powerful voice to be exercised to impact public policy,” he says.
Political pundit Wendy J. Schiller sees seniors as a crucial voting bloc in American politics. “On average, 72% of voters over the age of 65 turn out to vote in presidential elections, as compared to about 48.6% of voters under the age of 30. Seniors are consistent and typically well-informed voters on issues concerning Social Security and Medicare,” says Schiller, Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence in Political Science and Director of the Taubman Center on American Politics and Policy, Brown University.
According to Schiller, in the past 3 elections, “seniors have split about 55-56% for the Republicans, and 45-46% for Democrats. Seniors have been viewed as more conservative (Sun City AZ, the Villages FL) but the data do not really bear that out as you can see. There is a tilt, but not a full lean toward the GOP; this midterm season might be different though. If the 22 midterm elections were held tomorrow, you might expect to see even a bigger swing toward GOP candidates than usual because of inflation alone. Inflation is just one area where there is a gap in issue concerns between older and younger voters. Older voters worry a great deal about inflation eating into their savings and pensions that are not adjusted for inflation while younger voters may be as concerned with climate change and abortion rights as much or even more than they are worried about inflation,” she says.
Schiller says that seniors are like all other voters in that they are highly influenced by their political party affiliation, even in cases where the party proposes policies that run against their interests. “The GOP has proposed cutting Medicare ever since it was created, most recently under President Trump, but they are not careful to say that such cuts would not affect current recipients or even people aged 55 or over and the majority of seniors voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Democrats ran into some trouble with seniors when Bernie Sanders and others proposed Medicare for All because seniors thought it would dilute their own services through Medicare, and/or raise their premiums,” adds Schiller.
Adds well-known Rhode Island Political Strategist, Rob Horowitz, “As a group, seniors vote more regularly than any other age group. In the 2020 presidential election, for example, more than 3-in-4 people eligible voters between the ages of 65 to 74 voted as compared to about 2-in-4 eligible voters between the ages of 18 to 24. Since Rhode Island has an older population, seniors are a key group in pretty much every state and local election. Winning campaigns in Rhode Island and throughout the nation devote time and advertising dollars to reaching seniors.”
According to Bob Weiner, former chief of staff director of the House Select Committee on Aging under Florida Congressman Claude Pepper and former spokesman for both the Clinton and Bush White Houses, no one can forget the clout of older voters because they are the most motivated demographic group to vote. “They can’t be broken out by political parties as people expect,” observes Weiner, noting that it is a very close 50-50 split vote. “Older voters vote Democratic and Republican; the Democrats must do more to capture the senior vote. It’s close. In 2020, while Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million, Donald Trump won the senior vote 52% to 47%. It’s not a matter of party. Seniors’ quality of life is not political,” he says.
“But on the issues, they will tear apart a candidate who doesn’t support Social Security, Medicare and the rights of seniors to have continued employment and privileges in society,” Weiner notes.
“So, anybody who thinks they can get away with some horrible position, such as cutting back Social Security or Medicare in five years or utilizing the myth that Social Security is in deficit crisis, they can’t because it has a 2 trillion surplus resulting from Claude Pepper negotiations to keep the program fully solvent through 2034,” Weiner says, noting that it only needs a “little repair” to keep it going.
“Anybody who thinks that they are going to use Social Security and seniors to fund other federal government operations is badly mistaken,” says Weiner. “When President Bush wanted to privatize Medicare and Social Security and made a campaign out of that he actually helped lose congressional seats in an off-year election,” said Weiner, warning political candidates to think twice when thinking about balancing the federal budget on the backs of the nation’s elderly.
“Voting Gives You Power”
“In Rhode Island and across the country, the data clearly show that voters aged 50+ will be the deciders in the 2022 elections,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “We are working with dozens of advocacy volunteers who are fighting for voters 50+ to make their voices heard on the issues that matter – especially in Rhode Island where we are in the midst of a housing crisis, nursing homes are in jeopardy, the cost of long-term care is skyrocketing and where people want leaders who are committed to making local communities more livable.
“At the federal level, older voters want to know candidates’ positions on protecting and strengthening the Social Security benefits Americans have paid into and earned through years of hard work, protecting and improving Medicare benefits, lowering prescription drug prices, and supporting family caregivers who risk their careers and financial futures to care for parents, spouses, and other loved ones,” Taylor said.
“Voting gives you the power to decide what our future looks like,” she continued “But you have to be in the know to vote. AARP Rhode Island has collected the most up-to-date election information, including key dates and deadlines, to make sure that the voices of voters 50+ are heard. We are doing everything we can to make sure older Rhode Islanders are prepared to vote and know the safe and secure voting options included in the new, AARP Rhode Island-backed Let RI Vote Act. In mid-August, we will offer a Video Voter Guide posted along with all the latest election information at aarp.org/RIvotes,” Taylor said.
Co-sponsoring this event is a broad coalition of 18 service providers and advocates:
A Community Together, Alzheimer’s Association of RI, Carelink, Community Partners Network of RI, Economic Progress Institute, Leading Age RI, NAACP Providence Branch, Ocean State Center for Independent Living, PACE, Progreso Latino, RI Assisted Living Association, RI Elder Info, RI Health Care Association, RI Organizing Project, RI Senior Centers Directors Association, SEIU Healthcare 1199, Senior Agenda Coalition of RI and Village Common of RI.
in the high school’s new 900-seat capacity auditorium.
To read AARP web blog articles discussing the impact of senior voters at the polls, go to: