July 6, 1997 in Nation/World

Washington Senior Citizens’ Lobby Ignores Party Lines

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revi
 

Unlike the American Association of Retired Persons, which pussyfoots around issues that have become politicized along party lines, the Washington Senior Citizens’ Lobby shows no fear.

“The 1997 legislative session was dominated by a Republican majority that centered their activity on reducing expenditures, cutting taxes, reforming welfare and doing seemingly little to meet some of the needs of the disabled and low-income aging adult population.”

So reads the first sentence of the lobby’s annual report on the outcome of the 1997 Legislature.

How can the Senior Lobby get away with naming names?

“Well, for one thing,” explains Evan Iverson, who has guided the lobby as president throughout this decade, “our report is not an attack on the Republican Party. Our members come from both sides of the aisle. We don’t discriminate. But neither do we try to duck the issue of who’s doing what to whom.

“Facts are facts. As to this Legislature, we certainly can’t perjure ourselves after the fact just to be politically correct, now can we? The Republican majority did concentrate on cutting taxes and spending at the expense of social issues. There’s no denying it.

“And for another thing,” continues lobbyist Iverson, “who’s going to fire us? We’re all retired. We’re all volunteers. We don’t work for money. We can’t be fired.”

Iverson, who resigned as president recently but still serves on the group’s board, describes the lobby as “an organization of organizations.” It is a body composed of one delegate each from 26 major senior citizens organizations that agree to pursue a common cause by consensus.

“Right now,” says Iverson, “our greatest worry is for low-income older elders who become incapacitated and are dependent on state or federal assistance for home or institutional care.

“The number who meet the strict criteria for assisted care has been running 300 a month - but this Legislature decided they could afford only 180. So here are 120 ill elderly every month with no place to go.

“Worse, we know that number will grow,” warns Iverson, “because those over 75 are the fastest-growing segment of the seniors population.

“Asked what to do with the extra old people,” Iverson says, “lawmakers replied, ‘No problem. Just change the eligibility criteria.’ But the Senior Lobby does not agree that reflects the values of society today.

“You have an especially big constituency of low-income seniors in Spokane,” Iverson notes. In fact, Spokane has the highest per capita poverty rate among senior citizens in the state.

Iverson says the popular image evoked by the media of affluent, active senior citizens cavorting around the country in expensive RVs “is not the reality we see, especially among older seniors.”

They are living longer. Many don’t have an employer pension. They retired so long ago they didn’t pay enough into Social Security to get a lot back. “They have,” says Iverson, “by far the highest poverty rate among adults.

“They are also by far the highest health risk. Couple low income with high health risk, and there is no such thing as affordable long-term care for them.”

Most people don’t realize it until too late, but long-term care is not covered by Medicare, Iverson says. The only hope is Medicaid. But preserving that for ill and impoverished old folks is a constant battle.

“It’s a perpetual fight for us,” says Iverson, “because Medicaid doesn’t have a paid lobbyist out there - none - with big money for high-profile lobbying activities like everybody else does.

“So we in the Senior Lobby - all volunteer, all funded by contributions - do what we can to fill this void.”

Iverson says the Senior Lobby relies totally on voluntary donations to maintain a small part-time office, pay for phone service and cover mailing costs.

The lobby’s records are available, Iverson notes, at its Olympia office or from the secretary of state.

Contributions are not deductible. For those who want to contribute, the phone number for the lobby is (360) 754-0207. The mailing address is Washington Senior Citizens’ Lobby, 1501 S. Capital Way, No. 102, Olympia 98501.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or by fax at 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or by fax at 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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