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Guest Commentary / Committee on aging sought

Readying for Generation Retirement

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By Sen. Barbara Bailey and Rep. Steve Tharinger
It doesn't matter whether you call Seattle or Spokane home.
It doesn't matter if you call yourself a conservative Republican or liberal Democrat or something in between.
Few issues touch us all -- but as mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, wives and husbands, each of us will eventually face the challenges of aging.
Baby boomers are now retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day.
Families across the nation face the same set of challenging issues. Have I saved enough to retire? Is it really safe for dad to keep driving? Who's keeping track of mom's medications?
This year in Olympia, lawmakers agreed it is time to start planning for this big shift.
Republicans and Democrats alike voted in favor of establishing a joint legislative-executive committee on aging and disability, composed of legislators from both parties and members of Gov. Inslee's cabinet.
But now, this issue is contingent upon a final budget agreement.
As legislators who are passionate about this issue, we are urging our party leaders to support the creation of the committee on aging and disability. We believe we have a responsibility to our senior citizens, and our families -- parents struggling to get by on a fixed income, our elderly neighbors trying to make ends meet in the face of an unexpected illness and to ourselves -- to plan and prepare for retirement.
Our passions for the issue come from life experience. Sen. Bailey's years spent caring for her mother as she struggled with Alzheimer's disease motivated her to run for a seat in the Legislature. Rep. Tharinger deals with these issues in his hometown of Sequim, our state's retirement hot spot.
By 2030, the 65-and-older population in our country will have more than doubled to more than 70 million. During that time frame, the 65-plus population in Washington will increase from 12 percent to 20 percent. That equals about one out of five Washingtonians.
Our state is not prepared for this dramatic population shift.
Our housing supply and transportation infrastructure are overwhelmingly designed for able-bodied people who drive.
Our future retirees are not saving - a recent survey by AARP Washington found one quarter, or approximately 462,000, of Washington's baby-boomers have less than $25,000 in savings.
Nearly all of our state residents are uninsured for long-term care, even though research tells us that one out of three people turning 65 today will need long-term care in his or her lifetime.
What these trends tell us is that if we do nothing, we will have a large population of older people who are struggling to make ends meet, who are isolated in their homes and who are turning to our state Medicaid system for long-term care because they have no other options.
Their need for state-funded services and supports will crowd out other important budget priorities.
It doesn't have to be this way. We can plan for an aging-friendly future now, but we have to make it a priority and plan for it. Real change doesn't happen overnight.
It's time to focus and innovate. There are a number of positive models to explore. These models include legislation recently passed in California to help small businesses set up retirement savings accounts for their employees; concepts such as "Complete Streets" and universal design to create accessible housing and livable communities; and new ways of thinking about financing long-term care.
This committee is a critical first step to getting people to the same table to tackle the same problems.
Finding the best ways to create successful communities for all ages will require thought and action not only from state government but also from local governments, non-profits, foundations, businesses and engaged citizens.
Let's get the conversation started and do the right thing for seniors from Aberdeen to Oak Harbor and beyond.

Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) represents the 10th Legislative District. She is Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, and a member of the Senate Health Care, Ways and Means, and Budget Committees. She can be reached at

Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim) is serving his second term in the state House of Representatives and is a member of the Health Care and Wellness Committee. He can be reached at

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