Asian Elders Could Be Hit Hardest by Fed ‘Sequester’ Cuts

Asian Elders Could Be Hit Hardest by Fed ‘Sequester’ Cuts

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Andrelina “Elna” Orbeta, 79, works helping seniors who phone a Seattle nonprofit. She is among the elders NAPCA has given employment training and job placed under the federal SCSEP program, which is facing deeper cuts.

SEATTLE, Wash.--Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) elders (age 65 and older), is projected to grow by more than 350 percent from 1.6 million to 7.3 million individuals by 2060, making AAPI older adults the fastest-growing population among this age range.

Eighty five percent of AAPI ages 65 or more are foreign-born, and in many AAPI subgroups, limited English proficiency rates are as high as 89 percent, posing very real risks of isolation and a challenge for accessing critical information.

Higher Poverty Rates

While poverty rates among older adults average 8 percent among whites, in certain AAPI subgroups, they range from 21 to 26 percent — well over two or three times the rate of white Americans. Also, in certain AAPI subgroups, rates for those without health insurance are as high as 19 percent, compared to 15 percent of the total population.

While these statistics did not exist when National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) was founded in 1979, community leaders were well aware of the access issues challenging AAPI elders, their families and the communities serving them.

To meet the need, those leaders designed NAPCA to serve as a bridge for AAPI elders, and the organization continues to help AAPI seniors in different communities across the country access important programs and benefits for which all Americans are eligible.

Millions of AAPI elders rely on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments to survive. Of those, NAPCA serves 10,000 limited English speaking seniors through the Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese national, toll-free Asian language Helpline.

Many callers are eligible but need information and assistance in applying for benefits, either because they don’t know how or cannot access the system. Every year, NAPCA helps thousands of low-income AAPI elders navigate the Medicare Open Enrollment process and understand the eligibility requirements for Social Security, Medicare, Low Income Subsidy program and Medicaid.

NAPCA creates in-language tools to help limited English speakers understand Medicare and how to access affordable prescription drugs, and is always looking for opportunities to assist limited English speaking elders in accessing senior benefit programs they may be eligible for.

Forced to Choose Medicine or Food

With the federal budget sequester now in effect, automatic spending cuts will be applied to all non-entitlement programs, including those serving the most vulnerable people. For example, many seniors who are already in a dire situation will have to make untenable choices, such as between paying for medicine or other essential items like food or rent.

Although cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans benefits are not being implemented, the reductions in other vital programs, such as senior employment, will take effect over a seven-month period. During that time a compromise must be reached in order for funds to be restored.

Cuts under the federal sequester will impact the health and well-being of AAPI elders and other low-income and ethnic elders most directly because these seniors are more heavily reliant on Social Security than other Americans. Few benefit from other investment tools or pensions.

Income security for many AAPI elders is fragile. In 2010, among AAPIs receiving Social Security, 31 percent of married couples and 53 percent of unmarried individuals relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. The average annual Social Security income received then by AAPI men ages 65 and older was $13,214. For women of this age, it was even less--$11,176.

NAPCA and other organizations serving the AAPI community will face significant challenges providing services given these cuts.

About 100 low-income AAPI elders will lose their minimum-wage training positions through NAPCA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). The only federal program designed to help low-income people 55 and older get on-the-job training, SCSEP has already seen sharp cuts and now only serves 77,000 seniors through nonprofits like NAPCA nationwide. (Our SCSEP programs serve 1,200 older workers from all cultures in nine cities around the U.S.)

Election Showed Potential AAPI Power

Without a resolution in Washington, D.C., to the sequestration cuts, for instance, NAPCA could see further reductions in its toll-free, Asian-language Helpline of up to a third of staff hours per language line. Meanwhile, the need for information will only increase due to changes resulting from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

As we’ve seen in the last presidential election, the power of the AAPI voice can have great impact on decisions affecting our country. It is critical that the community understands the impact of the sequester and the importance of communicating to all law- makers that a balanced approach to deficit reduction must not include further cuts to the vulnerable populations that we serve.

Christine Takada is the chief executive officer and president of National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA). This article is adapted from a commentary in the International Examiner, a Seattle-based nonprofit pan-Asian newspaper. NAPCA partnered with the paper to produce a special issue dedicated to National Minority Health Month, which takes place in April.