Inside The Senior Alliance: Michigan Senior Advocates Council (Ep. 1.9)
In episode 9, host Jason Maciejewski is joined by Susan Rowe from the Michigan Senior Advocates Council and David LaLumia, the executive director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association, to discuss advocacy, just what is the Michigan Senior Advocates Council (MSAC), and what a person can do if they are interested in joining the efforts of the MSAC.
Jason Maciejewski (00:00):
Welcome to episode nine of inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, chief advocacy and planning officer with The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging, serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Today I’m joined by Susan Rowe from the Michigan Senior Advocates Council and Dave LaLumia, the executive director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan, Susan, and Dave. Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance.
Susan Rowe (00:28):
Thank you, Jason, for having us today.
Thank you, Jason. Nice to be here.
Jason Maciejewski (00:31):
Great, great to have you both join us and we’re going to talk about advocacy today and the role of the Michigan Senior Advocates Council. Advocacy is a duty that Area Agencies on Aging are charged with under the Older Americans Act. It is a core function for us at The Senior Alliance. And as one Area Agency on Aging, we annually approve an advocacy platform and send out a monthly advocacy newsletter. We also monitor bills, which all empower people to advocate. Dave, what is the Area Agency on Aging Association of Michigan? And what types of issues do you get involved with on behalf of older adults?
Dave LaLumia (01:08):
Well Jason, our association represents all 16 Area Agencies on Aging across the state of Michigan. And that the aging network is as it’s often called includes not only Area Agencies on Aging, but also the state aging unit and more than 1300 provider organizations that contract through Area Agencies on Aging. So we monitor all of the activity related to the aging network. We advocate for aging programs and services with the legislature, and we’re in constant touch with our federal representatives as well, who have a lot to say about how the Medicare and the Medicaid program run.
Jason Maciejewski (01:49):
Well, those of us who work in the field of aging monitor legislative action, we rely on a strong network of advocates to carry that message about issues that are impacting older adults and take that to elected officials. The Michigan Senior Advocates Council is one group that takes that charge. Susan, what is the Michigan Senior Advocates counsel?
Susan Rowe (02:08):
The Michigan Senior Advocates Council, or MSAC as we refer to it as, is a group of senior leaders called delegates who traveled to Lansing monthly from across the state. Delegates study senior issues and inform elected officials devoting a significant platform at each meeting to visiting legislature’s offices and talking with them and their staff. MSAC consists of a group of usually 30 or more adults appointed by the Area Agencies on Aging across the state of Michigan. And we have three things that are in common. We’re 55 years of age and over, we have ties to an aging network in our community, meaning we’re either serving on already a AAA advisory council, or we are a board member of that same AAA. Also leadership – delegates active in local and state senior groups, they understand the aging network and its services, and are recognized as leaders in their communities.
Susan Rowe (03:10):
Beyond these similarities, it’s a diverse group which cuts across racial, ethnic, and economic categories. The delegates hail from big cities, rural communities, and in this way MSAC represents Michigan’s diverse senior population. We are also a nonpartisan group, so we don’t endorse any political candidates. We meet on the fourth, Wednesday of the month at 9:30 in the morning. And our meetings normally take place in Lansing in person, but over the past year, because of the pandemic, we have been meeting via Zoom, which in some ways has been very good because it has really increased our attendance at our monthly meetings. And at those meetings, we discuss various legislation that is now in the legislature and have visiting speakers talking about specific areas that are under the Older Americans Act and such.
Jason Maciejewski (04:05):
Susan, you mentioned that you’re connected locally in our service area to older adults, and you’re a member of our advisory council. So, you have that role as member with our local Area Agency on Aging on that advisory council and then MSAC. Uh, what do you do with our advisory council to bring MSAC back to other folks, other stakeholders in our area?
Susan Rowe (04:27):
When we have our monthly meetings with The Senior Alliance or TSA in the city of Wayne, I usually have a part on the agenda that states what has been happening in Lansing from the perspective of MSAC. With The Senior Alliance, Jason, you serve as our government relations person, you take care of a lot of the work that would be done at a local level that most of the AAA’s in the state of Michigan do not have. So, I basically just talk about what MSAC itself is doing. Such as this past May, we were involved in the program, older Michiganians Day. So, we worked with the committee on that as you did as well from the perspective of The Senior Alliance. And it was a very successful event.
Jason Maciejewski (05:17):
Members of the advisory council appreciate getting the inside story from, from yourself as well, in terms of what’s going on in Lansing, has become a big part of our advisory council meeting. So I want to thank you for doing that. Dave, how does the Area Agency on Aging association in Michigan and the Area Agencies on Aging as individual entities interact with the Michigan Senior Advocates Council?
Dave LaLumia (05:38):
The Senior Advocates Council was created in 1977 by the Area Agencies on Aging Association in Michigan and Jason, you mentioned their responsibility to advocate for seniors and for older adults, this mandate was built into the federal Older Americans Act when AAA’s were created back in 1973. So we’ve had since 1977, we’ve had a very active group of MSAC delegates and they have worked on a variety of issues. I’ve been very impressed with their interests, with their passion, with their skill in talking to legislators and writing letters and identifying the issues and the important points. But MSAC has been involved in a number of issues, elder abuse, uh, nursing home reform, home heating assistance, no-fault insurance, MI Choice expansion, and every year they’re involved in an appropriations activities and asking the legislature to make more resources available for programs for older adults and people with disabilities.
Jason Maciejewski (06:45):
Yeah, MSAC has been really involved in helping our advocacy work, especially when it comes to the budget, as you mentioned. Susan, how many visits do you typically make when you’re in Lansing for a Michigan Senior Advocates Council meeting?
Susan Rowe (06:57):
Normally, I will stop in and see sometimes just two of our representatives because The Senior Alliance covers Western Wayne County and down river. Uh, we have a lot of representatives that are in our district, so I spread it out. So normally I will get in two visits, sometimes three. In the case of the Older Michiganians Day, I would hit all of the representatives and Jason would take on the senators. And normally it’s been really a very learning experience on my part and on their part. Well, several of them are new and they do not really know too much about the MSAC or senior programs in general. So they’re very appreciative of when you can go in. And especially when I can go into my own representative’s office and sit and chat with him, which I do. Unfortunately, the pandemic has really cut down on in-person. So it’s been over the internet with either emails, phone calls, or sometimes Zoom meetings. So, um, I’m looking forward to getting back where we can actually sit down in person, in Lansing.
Jason Maciejewski (08:07):
Yeah. I know when people sometimes begin advocacy for the first time, they’re a little bit intimidated by meeting an elected official, especially a state-level elected official. So when you meet with state representatives and state senators, what is the reaction that you get when you meet with them?
Susan Rowe (08:22):
Well, in my case, I have served locally as elected official on the city council and the City of Wayne, as well as mayor. And when I was in those positions, I was active with the Michigan Municipal League, which often I would meet several of the representatives. So now I just have and wearing a different hat. So it’s been, it’s been fun, changing gears, and I am not as intimidated with them as probably someone who’s never been in that type of position. So that I think is a plus for me, I just, they’re just regular people like everybody else, they get up in the morning, get dressed and, do a job. And they’re as eager to learn about the different areas that they represent and the people that they represent and what we can bring to them. And I’ve found they’ve been appreciative of the information that MSAC can provide to them, and I provide to them as both the MSAC as well as sometimes The Senior Alliance, um, member of the advisory council, although I try and leave that part of it to Jason, more than anything.
And Dave, what’s been your experience?
Dave LaLumia (09:25):
I’ve noticed that the MSAC delegates tend to take one another under their wings once in a while. If there’s a new delegate, some of the more experienced delegates will offer to take them along on a couple of meetings so that they get a little bit of experience and get more comfortable in a setting like that, so they can go out and meet their own folks. They’ve been very supportive of one another, and I think it’s really improved the level of advocacy and the effectiveness that they’ve had when they talk to the members of the House and Senate.
Jason Maciejewski (09:58):
I think it was a great point that you made Susan about the legislators willingness to be educated on topics. I find that quite a bit when it comes to MI Choice Waiver and some of the budget issues. They’re really trying to understand the perspective from people that are advocating on behalf of older adults. And it’s a really great opportunity to teach and have them learn about issues that may not, they may have not encountered in the past. Dave, could you share a time when a conversation you’ve had with a legislator has helped them build better understanding about an issue involving older adults?
Dave LaLumia (10:32):
I think Susan mentioned that their legislators for the most part are eager to learn. And I would, I would agree with that. Many legislators have had some contact with their local Area Agencies on Aging. I mean that the network covers all 83 Michigan counties and legislators like to keep in touch with their local citizens and advocates. So there’ve been a number of occasions in which conversations, uh, have had a major impact on issues. And one that I can think of has to do with the MI Choice Waiver program and that this is a program which, which serves people who are Medicaid beneficiaries, who are in danger of going into a nursing home and it provides community-based services and supports to keep them in their home. And a conversation that we had with a legislator about this program, while he knew about the aging network and what it did, was not at all familiar with the extent to which a home and community-based services could keep people where they wanted to be in their own homes, at the same time, avoiding the expenditure of a lot of money to place someone in a nursing facility. So this, uh, example that I’m thinking of was just a very effective opportunity for our delegates to educate legislators about, our programs.
Jason Maciejewski (11:54):
And Susan, how about you, could you tell us about a time when your advocacy has had an impact?
Susan Rowe (11:58):
Yes, I would agree with what David said also with the MI Choice Waiver, but also in regards to just the budget and the amount of money being allocated for the direct care workers and the increase in their salary. And then also the fact that the Kinship Care Program that has been initiated at the state level. It’s important that, uh, we get this point across to the legislators that people need help. And some of them just don’t know where to go and their family members need assistance in providing those services. And a lot of the state legislators do not realize that all of this is important and is needed and there needs to be some funding available for them. So I think in the, in the area of funding, that has been one area that I have found to be, um, very important, as well as bridging the digital divide.
Susan Rowe (12:57):
I have a summer home up north and up there, internet is just so poor. And I was actually talking to a representative and just showing him the map of how little internet services available, broadband service available, up in the Northern lower part of Michigan, as well as in the upper peninsula. And he was impressed that we had that information available for him and appreciated my being able to share that with him. So I think in my instance, I think it’s very important and it has served, I hope in some ways, getting them to, uh, push a little bit harder when they’re in their committee meetings and discussing the various bills.
Jason Maciejewski (13:38):
Yep. Budget issues, Kinship Caregiver, MI Choice Waiver, broadband, internet access. These are all issues that we as advocates, I think, have been able to educate and inform our state legislators on and really give them information that they can use when they’re doing their work on these pieces of legislation and appropriations bills. And it’s a really, those are really great examples of how we can have an impact as advocates. Dave, is there anything you’d like to add?
Dave LaLumia (14:07):
Just add that, and Susan brought it up, the, the importance of supporting our direct care workforce. There’s always been a need for more direct care workers in the aging network, but I think we can truly say right now that there is an employment crisis and that the shortage of direct care workers is having a severe impact on the ability of the aging network to provide services. And I think, you know, we see that in a number of different sectors where people are having a very difficult time finding and hiring and retaining anyone. And that nowhere is a more important than in the human services and the aging network when we need people to care for older adults and people with disabilities. And they’re getting very hard to find. I think I would just say that this is going to be an issue, which is going to a great deal over the coming years.
Jason Maciejewski (14:59):
Yeah. Our advocacy and direct care workers has been going on for some time and is really critical to what we’re trying to do in the aging network. Susan, what would you say to someone who’s interested in joining the effort in the Michigan Senior Advocates Council?
Susan Rowe (15:12):
First of all, um, I would tell them to contact their local Area Agency on Aging and ask if they could get involved, if they would like to be more active, especially at the Lansing level. It’s fun, it’s eye-opening and it’s inspiring. And the staff at the MSAC office and Lansing is just wonderful. Dave and Jan are so helpful. Whenever you need information, they’re readily available to get it for you, help you get it. The contact that we have with our lobbying organization in Lansing is fantastic at getting us additional information. It’s just an all-around good organization to be in. Especially if you – you have to be an older American to be in it – but it is inspiring to see how people in the older aging population are so passionate and so interested in moving forward and getting the information out there so that the legislators can be informed when they are in their committee meetings.
Susan Rowe (16:15):
That’s the most important thing, they need to have that information readily available. And with, you know, having internet, having that accessibility now is so critical and so important. And I find it’s a lot easier to communicate sometimes with some of the representatives with the internet than it was when we could actually see them sometimes in person, but that in-person contact is important. And I would love to have more representatives from our areas since we do have so many districts that we cover in Lansing. It would be nice to divide that information, providing to the representatives.
Jason Maciejewski (16:53):
Yes, we have 14 State House members and six members of the State Senate in The Senior Alliance service area alone. And I want to join in your comments about the Michigan Senior Advocates Council and the Area Agency on Aging Association pf Michigan about it’s a group of people that are really dedicated to what they do, but they really enjoy what they do as well. Those meetings are, there’s some passion that goes on there and they really desire to inform legislators and help make an impact on behalf of older adults and people living with a disability in our community. So Susan, Dave, I want to thank you both for joining me today on the podcast.
You’re welcome. It was enjoyable.
Thank you, Jason. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Jason Maciejewski (18:07):
If anyone has questions about services or programs, The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at +1 800-815-1112, or email us at infoatthesenioralliance.org. Information about our agency, our programs and services we offer can be found on our website at www.thesenioralliance.org, on Facebook we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. And finally, our Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance
Inside The Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.