Senator Baker Speaks at PA Senior Center Association

Senator Lisa Baker
PA Senior Center Association

Over the years, prominent people have offered different definitions of what home means. Most have heard the Robert Frost definition: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Christian Morgenstern said that: “Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”

Joe Moore put it this way: “Home is where you can say anything you please, because nobody pays any attention to you anyway.” He could have added the corollary that “the General Assembly is also a place you can say anything you please, because no matter how vanilla a statement is, someone will surely hold it against you.”

Along life’s road, we all find occasions when we have to define what home means. My mother is in a nursing home now, so I have gone through the wrenching decision process so many families have experienced. Trying to find the right balance, financially, medically, and emotionally. Then hoping that it is readily available and reasonably accessible.

Dealing with such considerations makes you fully appreciate the value of senior centers. Among the things people complain about these days, you hear about the lack of civility, the lack of regard for taxpayers, the lack of respect for our older citizens and what they have done.

My advice to people is that, if you want to see a place where good manners and solid service and healthy respect still live, go see a senior center. The purpose of Pennsylvania’s senior centers has remained constant. To create a home-like setting for those seeking services, activities, information, or the chance to be sociable.

In small communities and urban neighborhoods across the Commonwealth, the senior center has become a vital part of the fabric, taking rank with the library, the firehouse, and the foodbank.

Medical evidence continues to come in underscoring things we intuitively know. Being active, stimulating both body and mind, being social, being health conscious, paying attention to eating right in sensible portions, these things all contribute to longer lives, better quality lives, and help ward off debilitating illnesses and conditions. Not coincidentally, all these things are on the menu at most senior centers I have visited.

Particularly in these tough economic times, when there is heavy pressure on public budgets, taxpayers question almost everything state government does. Of course, most prefer to throw overboard services they expect to have no need of. But you do not see much in the way of second-guessing senior services. The need is conceded, and the quality is recognized.

That does not guarantee safe harbor status, mind you. State government is often criticized for never turning out the lights on a program. But the bureaucrats are not bashful about trying to shutter services in small communities, singing the praises of consolidation. State officials have at times given thought to closing what they term as “underperforming” senior centers. When a center in my district was so targeted, the news went down like a gallon of cod liver oil. Rallying to the cause, we found a more sensible and community-sensitive answer. Today, that senior center is not only still open, but more vibrant and more popular.

As we are now seeing, virtually no area of state spending is sacrosanct anymore. But senior centers deserve a place on the “Do Not Touch” list.

Earlier this week, the Senate held our budget hearing for the Department of Aging. The Secretary was peppered with questions, and few of them were happy inquiries. There was an intensity to the questioning that was not found in most of the other hearings. If anyone thought going in this was just political theatre, it was apparent there was an added level of concern and caring involved here.

In an uplifting interlude, the Secretary talked about a competitive grant program for senior centers. That is a good thing, although the money available will cover barely one-quarter of the needs. As we realize, it is not enough to just sustain these facilities as they are. We need to renovate structures, enhance programs, and increase participation.

Over the years, we have become much more sensitive to the needs of seniors for protective services. These might be physical, or increasingly they are financial. Senior centers are a place where protective services can be detailed and connections made. Troubling, however, there is no longer a state appropriation for guardianship services, and a smaller federal grant has about run out. It is false economy to cut small amounts of money that play a large role in the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

In these tough times, we are reminded that the architects of the state lottery made a crucial decision when the proceeds were to go only to benefit older Pennsylvanians. There is no threat to the dollars produced. They go for the intended and prescribed purposes. Without that time-tested protection, the mood of senior advocates would be markedly gloomier these days. But anxiety is rising over the legalized gambling binge Pennsylvania is on, for fear it will erode the amount of money coming into the Lottery Fund.

In these tough times, with ugly choices and difficult decisions in front of us, you find out who your friends really are. Many will say the right words about your concerns and priorities. Far fewer will go to the wall for you when it truly counts.

In these tough times, health care concerns and health care costs are touching everyone and everything. Whatever happens, or fails to happen, in Washington, we have to continually search for ways to get quality services to more people more cost effectively. Most people are not particular which level of government hits the finish line on health care reform – they just hope someone does, sometime soon.

Pennsylvania has plenty of opportunities to act on health care, through laws and policies and funding. In ten months, a new Administration, with a fresh agenda and different priorities, will be in place. So for everyone dissatisfied with funding levels, policy choices, and priority determinations, there is hope on the horizon.

Discussions about care inevitably focus on money. Yet, our checklist of factors for considering includes safety, security, dignity, respect. Virtues found in senior centers. For the interests of Pennsylvania’s seniors, for their families, and for their communities, we have a solemn obligation. We cannot afford to short-sheet funding for senior services generally, or for senior centers specifically. Nor should they be regarded as anything less than indispensable facilities providing irreplaceable services with a hard-to-match manner of caring and compassion.


Contact: Jennifer Wilson
(570) 675-3931

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