``Alaska's senior citizen population could very well triple in the next 20 years,'' explains Marie Darlin, coordinator of the Capital City Task Force (CCTF). ``How will we, as a state, choose to treat older Alaskans?'' She points out that, next to Nevada, Alaska has the highest percentage of people per capita over 65 of any state in the nation.
The CCTF is a group of dedicated AARP members located in Juneau who spend time at the Capitol, watch state legislation, testify on issues affecting older Alaskans and keep the State Legislative Committee informed. The State Legislative Committee, representing the 65,000 AARP members throughout Alaska, is made up of AARP members from around the state. Its job is to keep the local AARP chapters and retired teachers units abreast of what's going on in the state Legislature.
Although these dedicated advocates represent the AARP, the work that they do benefits all retired persons in Alaska. Ms. Darlin explains, ``Every AARP member should 1) join their local chapter of AARP (if available) to keep in touch with what's going on in the legislature and 2) make contacts with their legislators regarding the issues the AARP is working on.'' To join the Juneau Chapter, interested persons should call 586-2074.
This legislative session, the AARP State Legislative Committee is concentrating on two major areas: 1) health/long term care and 2) economic security. How will the state reduce expenses and balance the budget when the number of persons requiring long term care and medical services is rapidly growing? While there are no simple answers, the AARP invites legislators and citizens alike to give informed and thoughtful consideration to the policy decisions ahead. The safety, quality and availability of assisted living homes and in-home care need strengthening in spite of the ``fiscal gap.''
Darlin said that many people reach 65 only to discover what's not there in terms of health and long term care benefits. ``Only those who have served as care givers for their aging parents or relatives have a clue as to what's in store down the road for them,'' she explains. Persons in the 55-65 age group are well-advised to educate themselves on what to expect at retirement and at age 65, and start planning now.
Many of the legislative budget decisions made this session will affect seniors. Possible changes to the Longevity Bonus, Property Tax Exemption, Old Age Assistance, Pioneers Homes and Medicaid programs are the most obvious examples. However, nearly every budget decision will impact seniors' lives. A cut in municipal assistance will likely mean cuts in local senior services; a cut to the university budget could mean fewer nurses trained to meet the growing need for health and long term care in our state.
Fellow senior citizens can be seen testifying before the Legislature on Gavel-to-Gavel (channel 4). The AARP chapters and RTA units are kept informed and altered when to contact certain legislators.
All older Alaskans should pay close attention to the work of the legislators and let their voices be heard. For those who want to do this, next Tuesday, Feb. 1, AARP members and other interested persons are invited to a legislative reception at the Baranof Hotel from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Marianne Mills oversees senior citizen nutrition and transportation programs for Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service (CCS). CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.