OLYMPIA, Wash. - It's being called the "Silver Tsunami," and advocates for Washington's over-50 crowd say the state had better be planning for a spike in the senior population, because it's already under way. Today in Mercer Island, the second of five public forums gives older voters a chance to hear from their local political candidates.
The first forum was in Yakima last week, and Jerry Reilly, chairman of the ElderCare Alliance, was there. He says one of the ideas discussed is creating a new legislative committee to address issues related to seniors.
"There is no single committee that deals with aging issues; they're scattered over a variety of committees. Since this is one of the dominant demographic changes that's going to be affecting the state over the next 20 years, it makes sense to concentrate some expertise in one place."
Lawmakers and their challengers are being asked about their views on age discrimination in the job market, the Affordable Care Act, and what they would do to fill the budget deficit.
Reilly says Washington has a national reputation for its cost-effective system of allowing people to age in their own homes, with support services. But $2 billion have been cut from these programs, and he says the fallout has affected many seniors, their caregivers and families.
"Over the past four years, we've begun to see a deterioration of that system, particularly in hours of home care support available for people, and also some of the reductions in the Medicaid program and services available to elders."
Reilly says seniors' concerns don't stop at their own doorsteps. They also are very concerned about cuts to public schools and higher education in Washington.
"As the demographics shift in our society, we're going to need capable, well-educated, effective younger people to keep the systems going."
Other Silver Tsunami forums will be held on Tuesday in Vancouver, and next week in Everett and Spokane.
In addition to being a growing demographic force in Washington, seniors are already a political force. Nationally, about 53 percent of people over age 65 vote - but in Washington, it is 77 percent.
Monday's forum is at Mercer Island Community Center, 8236 SE 24th St., Mercer Island, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday's forum is at Clark Public Utilities Community Room, 1200 Fort Vancouver Wy., Vancouver, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.