Inside The Senior Alliance: AARP Michigan Overview episode with Lisa Dedden Cooper Part 2 (Ep 1.21)
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This episode is the second of a three-part series on AARP Michigan. In this segment, Jason Maciejewski, CEO of the Senior Alliance, interviews Lisa Dedden Cooper, Manager of Advocacy at AARP Michigan, and their discussion is all about advocacy.
Lisa talks about the situation with voting rights and how the demand for I.D. might impact seniors, the need for better and more reliable broadband internet throughout the state, how volunteers help out in numerous areas with AARP, and the ongoing fight against age discrimination, particularly for women in Michigan. You’ll also find out how you can get involved with AARP in your own community.
Jason Maciejewski: (00:00)
Welcome to Inside the Senior Alliance, a podcast, exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO of The Senior Alliance, the area agency on aging serving western and southern Wayne County. This is our second episode in our three-part series looking at AARP of Michigan. This episode is an exploration of advocacy activities and joining me is Manager of Advocacy, Lisa Dedden Cooper. Advocacy is a big part of what both of our organizations do as TSA and AARP often collaborate on advocacy for older adults like we have on Older Michiganian Day, and when I looked at the AARP website, you know, this morning, I saw an action point related to a petition effort that’s going on related to voting rights, and specifically, it’s one that would require somebody voting by absentee ballot to submit their driver’s license number or part of their social security number with their absentee ballot application. So, could you talk a little bit about AARP’s stance on voting and where you’re at with advocacy on that issue?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (01:00)
Absolutely. AARP has a long history of nonpartisan voter engagement. We recognize that the right to vote is the most basic of political rights. Now, AARP does not get involved in supporting or opposing candidates. We don’t give money to candidates or campaigns or parties. We don’t get involved in that. But, what we work to do is to ensure that everyone has the information that they need and the access they need to be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote. So, we started to change our focus with COVID and talk more than even before about absentee voting because we want people, again, to be able to stay safe when they vote. And now in Michigan, any eligible voter can choose to vote by absentee ballot, but what’s happened since then, in 2022, there’s been a petition drive to try to add some new requirements for people to be able to vote absentee. And, Jason, you mentioned it – the petition that’s going around is trying to get the legislature to change the law to start to require anybody, every time you would apply for an absentee ballot that you would have to mail or email a copy of your driver’s license or social security card, or send those numbers written out, the whole driver’s license number or the last four digits of the social security card. I think a lot of folks don’t know this, and this is one of the reasons that AARP has gotten involved in talking about this, is the last four digits of your social security number are, in fact, the most important ones for individuals to protect because those last four digits are the ones that are random and unique. The first five numbers of your social security number represent when and where your social security card was issued. So, scammers can get that information just by knowing your birthdate and hometown. So really, we all need to protect those last four digits of our social security number more closely than we do now. So, that’s one of the reasons that – that’s the big reason – that AARP has gotten involved in pushing back against this and trying to defeat that effort. Fortunately, the petition drive to make this change didn’t get enough signatures turned in in time for this election cycle. The rules are still the same. It’s not the law that you need to put your driver’s license or last four digits of your social security number on your application to vote absentee.
Jason Maciejewski: (03:43)
Thank you for covering that issue. It’s an important one for so many people in our state. I want to shift to talk about volunteers. And at The Senior Alliance, we utilize volunteers for our Medicaid Medicare Assistance Program and our holiday meals program, but I know AARP has involvement with volunteers as well. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (04:02)
AARP in Michigan has nearly 300 volunteers, and we are always welcoming to folks who would be interested in becoming an AARP volunteer. We have a couple of different types. The volunteers that I work most closely with are our advocacy volunteers. And we have advocacy volunteers that live across the state, and their role is to communicate with their legislators about the issues that we are pursuing at the state and federal levels as well, and we ask them to go out in their communities, in their circles of influence, right? We all have circles of influence and be a source of information about issues that are happening, public policy, and legislative issues in our state capital that people need to know about.
We also have our community volunteers in AARP Michigan set up. We currently have four communities that we target, where we have a bigger core of volunteers in each of those communities. So, Metro Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Jackson are our four target communities. So, we have bigger groups of volunteers in those communities, and you’ll see them out at community events, at a ballgame, at a community summer festival. They’ll be out with tables with information for people about issues and resources that AARP offers. We also have some very specialized volunteers that do some other work that I think is really, really exciting, and that is so valuable. We have a team of volunteers who do home fit and car fit activities around the state. And this is a small group of volunteers who are largely occupational therapists, and they will hold events – we haven’t done as many since COVID, we’re hoping to get back out there – but they’ll hold events to help people figure out how they can make their home more accessible as they age. Things like making sure that you have grab bars in your shower. Things like changing, perhaps, your doorknobs out for the long skinny style instead of the round knob style that are easier for people to be able to continue to use safely as they age. But, we are always looking for new volunteers. If anybody is interested in particular in working in our advocacy, I know we have a number of folks who are both AAA volunteers and AARP volunteers. We always welcome that. And I invite folks to contact me about that.
Jason Maciejewski: (06:47)
Right. Thank you for sharing that information. So, we’ve talked about the issue of voting rights, and you mentioned direct care workforce. What are some of the other major issues in the state of Michigan that you’re dealing with as the Manager of Advocacy?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (07:00)
Some of the other issues are increasing access to broadband for more older adults in Michigan – and not just access, but the use of. So, we talked about this at Older Michiganian Day this year. There’s this term “digital divide” that folks have been using in talking about internet access for a long time, right? And we have a digital divide between rich and poor amongst communities, urban, rural, but we have a digital divide that impacts older adults in particular. Older adults are less likely to have access to high-speed internet, but they’re also less likely – and this is probably not a surprise, right? – but they’re less likely to have the comfort level and knowledge that gets them to use their computers and their smartphones and make use of the internet. So, we have been advocating both for increased access to high-speed internet, no matter where a person lives, so like if you’re in a rural area, it’s important that you be able to have access as well, but also to help people who are older adults, in particular, to gain the knowhow to be able to make use of their computers and smartphones. Because there are things in particular that can really benefit older adults. We talk about a couple of them. One is access to healthcare through telemedicine, telehealth if getting to a doctor’s office is a challenge for you like it is for a lot of folks. Being able to connect with your doctor over a computer or on your phone through telehealth is a great benefit, a great way to increase your access to healthcare. Also, we found, again especially during COVID, that having access to and actually using a computer or a smartphone can help decrease isolation in older adults. So, expanding access and expanding the know-how for people to be able to use their computers and smartphones, make use of the internet are some big issues that we’re advocating on.
One other big area that AARP is advocating both at the federal and the state levels is for the federal government and the state to take action to lower prescription drug costs. We know that as high as inflation is currently, prescription drug costs have increased much, much higher than the rate of inflation. And we often talk about this, the best drugs in the world don’t work if you can’t afford them, if you can’t afford to take them. It doesn’t matter that our nation has developed these wonderful, wonderful treatments, prescription drugs need to be affordable for them to work.
Jason Maciejewski: (09:49)
Those are a couple of really important issues that you’re focused on and we are as well, and the issue of broadband internet access is so critical for so many reasons. You mentioned the healthcare aspect. There’s economic aspects to it as well. The ability just to apply for jobs nowadays, you can only do that online in many circumstances. Education, health and wellness information, doctors’ visits – so we really appreciate, you know, the work that AARP is doing on broadband internet access. It’s a part of our policy platform here at The Senior Alliance as well. I wanted to ask you about one other thing that I read on your website earlier today, it has to do with discrimination felt by women over the age of 50. Really interesting article I saw there about the impacts of women in our society, and we’re wondering if you have any comment about that in the work that AARP is doing on issues of discrimination.
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (10:45)
Yes. Age discrimination is one of our AARP federal legislative priorities. We have, in addition to the things that we talked about, which really so far have been mostly state legislative advocacy priorities, age discrimination is something that AARP has been pursuing at the federal level. And we’ve got, as you mentioned, research that shows that older adults are discriminated based on age – discriminated against in terms of being hired and often as well in being retained. And we see higher levels of age discrimination among women. We see higher levels of age discrimination among African Americans, both male and female. And part of AARP’s work in this area is getting information out about the value of these workers to workforces. There are tremendous benefits to employers of hiring and retaining seasoned workers as part of their workforce. But, beyond just providing information about the value of these workers and why companies should want to hire and retain them, we’ve also been working on reversing some of the things that we see happening or that exist now in the legal realm, based on some case law from several years back that made it much harder for people to bring and succeed in raising issues of discrimination, cases that bring age discrimination to the forefront. So, we’ve been working to change, to respond, to reverse this harmful court decision from years ago to level the playing field and allow people to actually have a way to enforce when there is a legal age discrimination that takes place.
Jason Maciejewski: (12:43)
Lisa, could you tell us about a time when your work at AARP has had an impact and it made a difference for somebody?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (12:49)
Oh my gosh. So, Jason, there are so many examples that we have. I’m sure the same that you have with your work with The Senior Alliance. You know, one that comes to mind that has stuck with me. We began a few years ago doing some focus on Veterans issues, some particular focus on Veterans issues, because a few years back we saw the statistic that in Michigan, we were dead last in terms of how many people in Michigan who are Veterans who were accessing the benefits that they had earned. We were dead last in the country in terms of folks accessing these benefits. So, we started in focusing on Veterans outreach. And one of our really early sessions that we held for Veterans talking in partnership with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, we talked about benefits, and we had a gentleman who didn’t realize that he could get hearing aids as a Veteran and had needed hearing aids for a very long time and learned at our event that he could get them. And he got hearing aids, and it changed his life. And there are a lot of stories I’m sure we have, but those are the kinds of things I think that inspires us to keep doing it, to keep advocating for change, to keep getting information and connecting people with the information and resources they need in their communities.
Jason Maciejewski: (14:15)
Yeah. Thank you for sharing that story. Certainly, your organization has a lot of impact with people in the community. If somebody wants to volunteer at AARP or maybe just learn more about the organization, what’s the best way for somebody to contact your organization?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (14:31)
So, people can always contact us through our website or our Facebook page. Our website is aarp.org/mi and our Facebook page, AARP Michigan. But for folks who are listening to us today, Jason, I’m gonna also give you my email address and you can contact me, and then I can help you get hooked up with whoever it is in our AARP Michigan state office that makes sense for the type of volunteering that you want to do, depending on the issues and where you live. So, people can contact me, Lisa Dedden Cooper. Fortunately for my email address, you don’t have to be able to spell my middle name. You just need LCooper@aarp.org.
Jason Maciejewski: (15:22)
In our third and final episode with AARP of Michigan, we’ll be looking at their work on brain health. If you have any questions about services or programs The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at 1-800-815-1112 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about our agency and the 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.
Speaker 3: (15:58)
Inside the Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.