In the 1980s a number of newspaper articles began referring to the older generation as the Greedy Geezers. The name and the label attached to older individuals detracted from society recognizing how much elders do for their communities, their families and the nation. The contributions of our elders were ignored because of the unfortunate portrayal of elders just enjoying their lives, living “la vida loca” not caring for the needs of others.
With the help of organizations like the Older Women’s League, the Association for Retired Americans, and AARP, the Greedy Geezers image began to slowly but surely change. Educational campaigns, both formal and informal, were launched to combat ageism and to present a more appropriate image of the many activities our elders provide their communities. With a lot of work and constant reminders of how elders advocate for children, abused women, juvenile offenders, education and the environment the negative self absorbing image of elders disappeared and in its place a more positive and compassionate image of elders emerged: Elders fighting for better schools, elders teaching children, elders helping the homeless veterans and elders lending a helping hand to the less fortunate.
To combat the perception that elders were indifferent to the needs of children and other human suffering and to show that they worry not only about their needs but the needs of others, intergenerational programs were created and organizations like Generations United were born. Now, 14 years later, the image of elders as founding mothers and fathers of our society is in danger of reverting back to the Greedy Geezer days. This is happening in Florida on March 3, 2004 when hundreds of elders will come to the capital to tell legislators they don’t need help. They are doing fine thank you.
The event called Ambassador for a Day is the brain child of the Bush administration to replace the Elder Day at the Capitol. Both events have totally different meaning and objectives so therefore they should not be confused.
At a time when the President called for commitment and sacrifices; a time when the needs of the many should continue to supersede the needs of the few, elders in Florida are being mislead. Yes, there are many elders that can dance and sing without worrying about income. Yes, there are many elders that do not need home care, home delivered meals or transportation to go to the doctor and yes, there are many elders that have no caregiving responsibilities but unfortunately not all elders are like that. If you feel you have the need to dance and sing in the Florida capitol please do so, but do it in a way that do not detract our lawmakers and the media from paying attention to those in need.
The Ambassador for a Day event raises a number of issues one of which is: Why are we supporting some Senior Centers and Area Agencies if they have the funds to travel to the State Capitol and the funds to invest in dancing and singing lessons for their participants? Shall we continue to invest in singing and dancing lessons for elders? Maybe this event raises the need to re evaluate the government funding strategy and program priorities. This is the year to advocate for the necessary funding to deal with the growing needs of elders, children and families. Our country is still at war. Our country has soldiers at risk in two occupied nation. If we stop for one second to evaluate the unintended consequences of our celebration at the Capitol in March we will see a different outcome than the one we would like to achieve. Unfortunately, the image of the Greedy Geezer may come back to haunt us.
This year the federal budget for programs that help elders have been frozen. Our own Department of Elder Affairs is projecting a 10 million over expenditure, excuse me over achievement, in the Nursing Home Diversion Program by early April. The paper increases in the proposed 2004-2005 state budget for Medicaid waiver funding may be just that a paper increase, a mirage to showcase in an election year. This is particularly true if the Federal Government is proposing to Block Grant Medicaid or is unwilling to increase Medicaid waiver funding in their budget. Our Medicaid waiver increase will have no federal match to make them a reality.
Instead of dancing at the capital in an event sponsored by the Funeral Industry we should quietly call or visit your Legislators and Congressperson and ask about their position supporting elder care programs, health care for children and programs for veterans. This is the year to show solidarity with children, caregivers and abused elders and lobby for more support for them. If you are a caregiver for an elder or for a disabled child or for a wounded veteran this is your year to make sure the Caregiver Initiative program comes with proper funding. Instead of dancing in the Capital used to time to question why we are diverting $600,000 from services to an advertising campaign to attract more wealthy elders to Florida.
There is a time and place to celebrate positive aging, but that time is not now, and that place is not at the steps of our capitol. If we don’t want the image of the Greedy Geezers to come back we should analyze the silent message we are sending with our carefree actions. A true Ambassador for aging is not about singing and dancing but about advocacy for all.
Dr. Gema Hernández