UPDATED 5/27/11 1:35 p.m.
Editor’s Note: On Friday May 27, Civil Beat interviewed Barbara Kim Stanton, Director of the Hawaii AARP. You can find her taped interview below.
You’ve probably seen her around town, and you’ve certainly heard of her organization.
Civil Beat did a Newsmaker interview with Barbara Kim Stanton, the state director of the Hawaii branch of the AARP, which advocates on behalf of those age 50 and older.
Unfortunately, the last five minutes of the video was cutoff due to audio issues.
Hawaii reporter Chad Blair was on the other side of the microphone, asking questions of the woman who has at times been credited with playing a leading role in shaping public policy involving Hawaii’s elderly.
The AARP is self-described as an advocacy group for the elderly. Nationally, the organization has a membership of close to 38 million people.
Locally, it has almost 150,000 members in Hawaii.
Hawaii is getting older. A smaller percentage of residents are children and a higher percentage are senior citizens — now one in seven are 65 or older.
Advocating on behalf of Hawaii’s graying population is Barbara Kim Stanton.
Stanton’s long career in public service includes stints as chief clerk of the Legislature’s Senate Ways and Means Committee and director of Hawaii’s voter education program. After Hurricane Iniki pummeled Kauai in 1992, then-Gov. John Waihee tasked her with leading recovery efforts.
Stanton took over as state director of the Hawaii branch of the AARP in 2005, and ever since she’s helped raise the organization’s visibility and crafted its larger role in shaping government policy.
As the public face of the AARP, Stanton is a familiar presence around the Capitol during the legislative session, and at Honolulu Hale. She often talks to media, helping put local context on national issues such as Medicare and national health care reforms.
Stanton’s views on behalf of her constituency have sometimes put her at odds with lawmakers and other elected officials. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, for example, singled out AARP Hawaii for playing a decisive role in defeating his plans to tax pension income and to eliminate reimbursements for Medicare Part B.
Here are the initial questions we thought people might have for Stanton. We’ve posted her written answers below.
1. For a state with a rapidly aging population, what is AARP doing to help seniors transition?
AARP is working to make sure that the 50+ population and their families have access to affordable, quality health care, have the opportunity to achieve lifelong financial security, and are empowered to live their best lives, including living in a strong and livable community. As a non-partisan social change organization with about 150,000 members in Hawaii, we are able to give greater voice to the needs of our 50+ population and their families.
Currently, we are working on promoting affordable health care, including prescription drugs and long-term care. Last year, we were a leading voice of support of the Affordable Care Act that strengthens Medicare and prohibits insurance companies from dropping health coverage due to illness, or from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
AARP is also leading the effort to strengthen Social Security and promote other retirement savings efforts to help residents achieve lifetime financial security. Our opposition of the flawed pension tax proposal is a part of our ongoing work in this area. We’re a leading advocate for family caregivers and the reform of long-term care in Hawaii – issues with profound implications for the retirement security of Hawaii residents.
As Hawaii residents grow older, most say they want to stay in their homes and communities. AARP is working to preserve and enhance the ability of all residents to age in place – by strengthening home and community based health and long-term care services, improving pedestrian safety, enhancing driver safety and mobility options, and creating communities designed to support independent living.
2. In what ways does the local AARP differ from its national counterpart in catering to Hawaii’s unique needs?
Both the national and the state office work together as One AARP to help the 50+ population live their best life in ways that are also good for our overall community.
However, the local state office is in a better position to see what is especially relevant to our Hawaii seniors and how proposed laws impact our population. We are also able to implement our AARP social impact agenda in a way that resonates with our community and get continuous input from our volunteers and members. Our advocacy, informational outreach and community service are achieved with our priority setting all-volunteer Hawaii Executive Council and about 400 volunteers statewide who work with our five paid staff members. Our national colleagues also work with us to conduct surveys of Hawaii residents (including non-member adults 18+) so that we are able to listen to the aspirations and dreams of our residents.
AARP’s red-shirted advocates are often the most visible representatives of our activity in Hawaii. But AARP volunteers are engaged in their communities in many other ways. To support these efforts AARP Hawaii provides a wealth of opportunities for social engagement, allowing residents to reinvent themselves in their 50+ years and live their best lives. To cite a few examples, the Create the Good program provides access to a community of people interested in sharing ideas, learning new skills, and engaging in community service.
In one event this year, AARP’s Drive to End Hunger campaign collected more than 2,500 lbs. of rice to feed the elderly through Lanakila Meals on Wheels. During the 2011 tax filing season, volunteers for AARP’s Tax Aide Program provided free tax preparation assistance to more than 16,000 low- and moderate-income elderly at 42 sites statewide. AARP Driver Safety Program volunteers last year offered 88 safety classes, helping older drivers stay safe behind the wheel. And we have nine active AARP chapters statewide and Information Centers on Oahu, Kauai and in Kona, all run entirely by volunteers.
The national office supports these Hawaii activities in multiple ways. To cite but a few examples, AARP’s 23-member, all-volunteer national Board of Directors sets the policy that guides the Association’s programs and activities. The national office creates AARP The Magazine, the world’s largest-circulation magazine, and the AARP Bulletin, a newspaper published 10 times a year and daily online. The national office conducts extensive research on age-related subjects. AARP’s Public Policy Institute is a wonderful resource that publishes reports on the 50+ population, available to the public online at http://www.aarp.org.
The national office also oversees AARP Services, Inc., a wholly owned taxable subsidiary of AARP, and provides quality control, on behalf of AARP, for AARP-branded products. Through the branded products of our service providers, we make available new and better choices to our members. Among these are health and financial products, travel and leisure offerings, and life event services.
3. What has been AARP’s biggest accomplishment in the past year?
A recent survey of AARP members in Hawaii suggests that our advocacy successes have been our biggest accomplishments this year. That survey showed that health and financial security are the most important issues in the lives of Hawaii residents age 50+.
During the 2011 legislature AARP supported the establishment of a non-profit exchange (Hawaii Health Insurance Exchange) to facilitate the purchase and sale of qualified health plans and the regulation of health plans in compliance with the Affordable Care Act of 2010. This is big step toward ensuring that all Hawaii residents have access to affordable, quality health care.
AARP’s volunteer advocates successfully opposed the flawed pension tax bill, a bill that would have placed a disproportionate share of the burden for closing the state’s budget shortfall on the shoulders of Hawaii seniors. The taxation of pensions represented a major change in tax policy in Hawaii, but was introduced with virtually no discussion of its potential impact on seniors’ retirement security.
Finally, over eight in ten adults 50+ say it is extremely or very important to have home and community-based long-term care services available in their communities. Accordingly, AARP played a significant during the 2011 legislative session to maintain $4.8 million in base-budget funding for the Kupuna Care program – a state-funded, county administered program providing food, medical assisted transit, bathing and chore services for frail and home-bound Hawaii seniors. Kupuna Care is not a Medicaid program. Without these services, many middle-income seniors would be forced into nursing institutions prematurely at three times the cost.
4. What are the biggest challenges your organization faces today?
The budget discussions in Washington D.C. are of concern to all Americans, because they speak to the future of our nation. AARP believes that the nation’s long-term debt requires attention and we are committed to lending our support to a balanced approach that addresses the nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. However, in addressing these challenges, we must not lose sight of the need to protect vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that older Americans rely on every day for their health and retirement security.
From surveys, town hall meetings, ongoing correspondence and numerous other interactions, we know older Americans are deeply concerned about the deficit and our nation’s fiscal health. However, they also want to make certain the promises made to them regarding Social Security and Medicare – which help them plan for and gain a measure of security in their retirement – are kept both for them and for their children and grandchildren.
5. What’s a misconception that you’ve heard about AARP that you’d like to clear up?
People are sometimes unaware of all the ways AARP is a positive force in our community. We typically show up through our advocacy, informational outreach, and by helping people save money in the marketplace. Less visible but extremely important is AARP’s service and philanthropy. We were, in fact, founded because of the need to help people 50+ live their best lives by working together to effect positive social change.
AARP was founded in 1958 by Ethel Percy Andrus, a retired high school principal from California. While visiting a former teacher one day, she was shocked to find the woman living in an old chicken coop, in poor health and unable to afford medical care. After helping that first teacher, she turned her efforts to helping others with a campaign to obtain affordable health insurance for retired teachers. Over 40 companies turned her down, but she persevered and eventually succeeded. She soon discovered that many other older people needed help as well, and in 1958, she founded AARP.
Today, AARP is a strong, nonprofit, nonpartisan advocate for Americans 50+ and provides trusted information with our publications, voter education guides, research and a website that cover the issues our members care about most. AARP membership is open to all people age 50 or older, and you do not have to buy products or services to get full membership benefits. AARP Services, Inc. makes available products and services designed specifically for the 50+ consumer – many of whom might otherwise be excluded from the marketplace. We do this by working with leading businesses to identify and respond to the ever-changing needs of Americans as they age. These relationships not only help shape the marketplace, but also earn royalty revenue that helps AARP achieve its mission of leading positive social change.
Submit your questions below. And see you online at noon on Friday.