Maryland Commission on Aging’s Partnership in Advocacy
With the installation of the O’Malley Administration and a dramatic turnover in the membership of the Maryland Commission on Aging, a new Chair was appointed who has energized the Commission in a way it has not seen for 6 years.
The Commission desired to become more active in pursuing its advocacy function “outside” of State government. (Although by statute the Commission is a part of the Department of Aging, its members are citizens appointed by the Governor, with the exception of a State Senator and a House Delegate). With the Secretary’s support, the Commission determined to work more closely with aging stakeholders, including professional lobbyists from large organizations serving the elderly, as well as organizations of senior citizens who advocate as volunteers, and those who served on local Commissions on Aging.
In the past few months, the Commission has convened two meetings. First, it brought together representatives from approximately two dozen senior issue and advocacy organizations, including the Alzheimer’s Assn., AARP, NARFE, retired school personnel, ARA, and the United Seniors of Maryland, among others.
The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the Commission and explain its desire to focus the efforts of all these organizations on high priority senior needs. This would require identifying common priorities, educating groups and advocates about the best way to influence policy and legislation affecting seniors, and coordinating efforts throughout the year. The plan is viewed as a long-term, ongoing and joint effort to organize and train senior advocates to apply their efforts on particular, practical budget and legislative priorities.
The State Commission then held a similar meeting with its counterpart commissions from the twenty-four local jurisdictions of the State. Representatives of over half the local jurisdictions attended the meeting and agreed to the plan proposed by the State Commission Chairman. (A number of other local Commissions are committed to the partnership but could not attend the initial meeting.).
Representatives also shared their view of needs in their local jurisdictions, and several broad issues were identified as priority needs statewide. These include: transportation; community-based long-term care, including caregiver support; and affordable/accessible housing.
As a next step, the state Commission will arrange for professional advocates to train members of the senior groups, local commissions and their constituencies in advocacy and lobbying techniques for both the legislative and executive branches of state and local governments.
In addition to pursuing advocacy education, the partnership will establish committees to: 1) set up a framework to identify common issues, and 2) develop a communications system that will keep all of the partners informed and in touch.
Future plans include focusing public policy makers as well as citizens on the rapid aging of our population and the effects this demographic change will have on every aspect of our society. There is a need for governments at all levels to plan ahead for major shifts in social spending, as well as for individuals to take greater personal responsibility for future long-term care needs as they age.
The state Commission is heartened by the strong, positive response of senior advocacy groups and commissions throughout the state, and looks forward to galvanizing an effective coalition.