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How America Can Afford to Grow Older: A Vision for the Future

So, how do they get around? In cities with mass transit, there are obvious possibilities. But in the suburbs-where nearly half the population lives-mass transit is not always available. And in rural communities, as many of you know, it is simply not there.

Add bad weather and you're guaranteed to have significant numbers of people shut in and isolated. Cut off from the activities and services they need.

AARP West Virginia's "Blizzard Box" program that was so successful last year in providing emergency meals to older homebound people is one important way communities can make up for their lack of accessible transportation.

The level of support and involvement for that program, both locally and statewide, illustrates perfectly why so many people want to stay in their own communities as they age.

We also need more transit programs like OATS, Inc. in rural Missouri. This non-profit transportation provider has been in business for more than 30 years. OATS uses a highly successful blend of professional and volunteer drivers to serve the poor and the elderly. It operates in 87 of Missouri's 114 counties with a fleet of more than 550 vehicles. Last year it provided more than a million one-way trips.

A second key to helping people age independently in place is building or modifying houses to more easily accommodate older people. Successful aging in place means that people can afford to live in decent housing that meets their needs and helps them remain independent.

There is a powerful message in this about quality of life for older people and their adult children, who are often caregivers. And continued independent living also means substantial cost savings for society and for families.

Along with health and physical safety, AARP is also is working to strengthen consumer protection. In July, the AARP Foundation received a check from the West Virginia Attorney General's Office to set up an ElderWatch Project which will help older West Virginians fight against financial exploitation.

The program will act as a statewide clearinghouse for information about scams and other fraudulent practices targeted at the elderly.

A similar AARP ElderWatch program, already underway in Colorado, has been educating both the public and law enforcement and social service agencies about the many ways the elderly can become victims of financial exploitation.

Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said, "What people want is… an America as good as its promise."

Achieving this requires a balance between what society can do and what we must do ourselves. We may have to pay a little more, exercise a little more, save a little more, and maybe work a little longer. But we can do it.

I've talked about health and health care, about retirement security and about livable communities. With the changes I've described, America can afford to age, and we'll all benefit from a society in which the wisdom and time and efforts of older people are a vital part of our lives.

But the longer we study and debate and wallow in gloom and doom, the worse our problems will become…and the less time we will have to solve them equitably. The sooner we take on these challenges, the less likely it is that we will leave them for the next generation.

I have said throughout my remarks that AARP is engaged. What does that mean?

I mean that through our members and volunteers, our publications and partnerships, our state offices, through products and services that contribute to social good, and through legislative and legal advocacy, through people like you-we are determined to make a difference for America. We have a strong social impact agenda, and we're on the job.

No permanent friends, no permanent enemies in Washington, just enduring interests.

George Bernard Shaw said that, "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility of our future." The responsibility of our future is to join together to create a country:

Where government stands sentry over vital programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and takes reasonable and responsible steps to strengthen them for generations to come;

Where corporate giants and small businesses alike prize the experience of older workers and reject age discrimination as bad business;

Where people of all ages receive quality health care they can afford;

Where parents and grandparents can remain in their homes and active in their communities for as long as possible ; and

Where all Americans can afford to grow old with dignity and purpose and continue chasing their dreams;

We can do this. And when we do, we will not only fulfill our responsibility to future generations, we will create an America as good as its promise.


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