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Area legislators dish on policy plans that impact seniors

Tuesday, February 04, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Steve Sadin

A group representing senior citizens’ issues was told at a recent legislative breakfast that for every person in Illinois not counted in the 2020 census, the state could lose federal money annually for the next 10 years.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston, gave this warning Friday to the gathering in Northfield of more than 70 advocates of senior issues and others. She was joined by other state and local elected officials as AgeOptions laid out its 2020 legislative agenda, in conjunction with the North Shore Senior Center.

“For every person we don’t count we can lose $15,000 a year for the entire decade, from a newborn infant to however old you happen to be,” Schakowsky said.

Diane Slezak, president and CEO of AgeOptions, a suburban Cook County organization connecting older adults and their caretakers to services, said the census is a top priority because seniors are a group which could find it harder to be counted.

“We need everybody to be counted,” Slezak said. “You don’t have to be a citizen.”

Slezak for the first time this year the first four attempts to count people will be made online. Only after that will contact efforts by mail or through door-to-door efforts be used. She said older people may not be comfortable using online communications.

Others, she said, worry about citizenship.

Echoing Slezak’s concerns on the census, Schakowsky said the decennial count is important not only because of maximizing federal funds benefitting Illinois residents but also the number of members of Congress the state gets in the House of Representatives.

“Everybody should be counted and it does not have anything to do with citizenship whatsoever,” Schakowsky said.

Both Slezak and Schakowsky said immigrants who may not be citizens need not worry about being counted. Information collected by the government for the census is secure and cannot lead to immigration issues.

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“It’s locked away,” Schakowsky said. “No one has access to it, no one.”

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, was another public official speaking at the event along with state senators Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, and Laura Fine, D-Glenview.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, from left, U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston, and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, were part of the panel of legislators at the Jan. 31, 2020 legislative breakfast held at the North Shore Senior Center in Northfield (Steve Sadin / Pioneer Press)

Suffredin said there is a color coded map outside the Cook County board’s meeting room indicating by area the level of census participation. While his district, representing the North Shore and nearby communities, has a participation rate of 93%, other areas are as low as 60%.

“Lots of people in my district are standing up to be counted but that’s still seven percent who are not registering,” Suffredin said. “We have work to do.”

While the census is at the top of AgeOptions agenda, Slezak said advocating for legislation providing for health care, caregiver compensation, housing, elder abuse and transportation for seniors at both the federal, state and local levels are critical. Legislation aimed at helping people with all forms of dementia is also a high priority.

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Fine said some of the issues she and her colleagues want to codify into law during the current session in the Illinois General Assembly include training first responders to properly treat people with Alzheimer’s, cap insurance premiums on long term care and elder abuse.

“When first responders encounter a person with Alzheimer’s, we want them to learn how to have a positive outcome,” Fine said. “We want to increase the statute of limitations on elder abuse from five to 10 years. Sometimes it takes time to report a theft.”

Villivalam said in the past few years the legislature was not as effective as it could have been but now “we have turned the corner.” He expects more laws helping seniors and others to pass the assembly and be signed by freshman Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“We want to have a major push to cap the price for medications like the cap we just put on the price of insulin,” Villivalam said. “We want to help doctors who treat people with Alzheimer’s. We have a lot more to do.”

Steve Sadin is a freelancer

 

 


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