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Stakeholders Warn Lawmakers of Expanding Aging Population; Older Black Californians Included

Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌ |‌ ‌California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

The California Commission on Aging (CCoA) hosted its second annual forum focused on challenges facing Californians over 65 years old.

Titled “Aging and Disability Issues: What Legislative Staff Need to Know for 2024,” the virtual event was organized to bring awareness to lawmakers that California’s aging adults are living longer and to emphasize the importance of developing policy to support this growing population, according to organizers.

This year’s meeting included the perspectives of gerontologists and other subject-matter experts who provided data and insights critical to informing policy.

Former Assemblymember Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino), who chairs the CCoA’s Executive Committee, began the discussion.

“The landscape of California is changing. Aging is changing and it’s changing California,” Brown said. “Older adults are living longer, and the cohort is becoming more ethnically diverse, underscoring the need to develop culturally, appropriate services.”

The discussion encompassed a range of topics including planning for long-term care, assisted living, enhancing healthcare quality, technology use, services for senior adults with disabilities, state budget considerations, and the best policies and practices to help aging adults stay healthy, active, independent, and confident.

The CCoA acts as the principal advocate for older Californians and as a catalyst for change that supports and celebrates Californians as they advance in age. The CCoA advises the Governor and Legislature, along with state, federal, and local agencies on programs and services that affect senior adults.

Statewide organizations that participated in the event included LeadingAge California, Disability Rights California, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, and California Collaborative for Long-Term Services and Supports.

In addition, representatives and staff members of Choice In Aging, Age Watch Newsletter, California Elder Justice Coalition, California Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and the California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Association were presenters during the 90-minute discussion.

“In California, we know that older adults are underserved and unserved relative to their needs,” CCoA Executive Director Karol Swartzlander said. “In stark terms, we know that 4% of older adults who need service actually receive services.”

According to the California Department of Aging (CDA), California’s aging population is expected to reach an estimated 4.5 million individuals aged 60 to 69 and 4.2 million senior adults ages 70- to 79 by the year 2040, based on information from CDA’s Master Plan for Aging.

Recognizing that the state’s 65-plus population is projected to grow to 8.6 million by 2030, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order calling for the development of the MPA.

Debbie Toth, from ChoiceInAging, said the MPA is a model of “how we can do better” to service the needs of older adults. ChoiceInAging, Toth said, “is going to be shopping accessible transportation and rate increases for adult day healthcare.

“But we need to have legislation to do it,” Toth told legislative staff members.

The seriousness of aging in the state – particularly for Black Californians — had been flying under the radar for almost 15 years before the state began to make it priority. A 2016 California Health Report (CHR) revealed that by 2030, 18% of the state will be 65 or older. Projections in that study also indicated that 52% of these older adults would be from diverse minority groups but “no population is expected to be harder hit than African Americans,” the report stated.

The California Department of Finance (CDF) projects that about one in four (23.1%) Californians will be 65 or older by 2040. The CDF projects that the state’s population will reach 40.2 million in 2044.

According to the 2020 Profile of Older Americans, a summary of critical statistics related to the older population in the United States, in 2019, slightly more than half (52%) of all older African Americans lived in eight states: New York (396,670), Florida (394,307), Georgia (362,535), Texas (350,106), California (304,751), North Carolina (298,365), Maryland (238,219), and Illinois (237,467).

Nationally, the African American population aged 65 and older was 4,979,133 in 2019 and is estimated to grow to 12.1 million by 2060. In 2019, African Americans made up 9% of the older population. By 2060, the percentage is forecast to increase to 13%. The number of African Americans aged 85 and older is calculated to increase from 511,540 in 2019 to 2.2 million in 2060.

Brown, who was the senior-most lawmaker in the California Legislature at the age of 69 during her tenure, stressed the importance of the master plan in focusing on the state’s aging minority groups.

“I feel that it’s important to highlight that the MPA acknowledges and offers strategies to address inequities leading to disparities and life expectancies,” Brown said.

Gov. Newsom presented a $291 billion spending plan to the California Legislature on Jan. 10, but a looming shortfall estimated at tens of billions of dollars could affect expenditure for programs targeting the state’s aging residents.

Presenters told legislative staffers attending to relay to lawmakers the importance of servicing a rapidly growing population.

“If you walk away with nothing else today, the whole goal is that the subject matter experts, these stakeholders are invested in the success of the legislative staff,” said Toth, explaining that the advocates participating are committed to working with lawmakers and their aides to improve policy for aging Californians.

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