Recently I was doorbelling in Oak Harbor. I met a couple who shared with me their concerns about their aging mother. They brought her to Whidbey Island this year from the Midwest. She needed their support. The concerns they shared centered on finding an appropriate Medicare supplemental plan and getting her connected to care and social support. I listened and directed them to Island Senior Resources locally and suggested SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisor) through the State. I strongly believe that we are responsible as a community and as public servants to care for our seniors and help them get the care they need to thrive.
My opponent recently stated in a forum that seniors “should plan ahead if they choose to live here. This is a rural community and people should know that and plan for it.” Well, I guess I agree and I disagree. I certainly don’t see myself brushing off this issue as a failure of personal responsibility. Many of us do plan ahead. Many who live here counted on their retirement pensions and their social security as they looked to the future. But life happens when we are making plans.
I met Sam sitting on his front porch on Camano Island. Sam has lived on Camano since childhood. He lives in a modest home on the west side. He had just received his property tax bill. He and his wife had both worked their entire lives and now were facing losing their home of 45 years because of rising property taxes. I wish both parties in Olympia had worked harder to find a better solution to fully funding education than just property taxes. I gave Sam information on how to find out if he qualifies for senior exemptions but he told me their income pushes them just over that threshold of support by $100 month. I will advocate with legislators in Olympia to address the impact of this property tax on our seniors and low-income homeowners. I hope to see modified legislation that offers a more careful approach. I met many other seniors on my walks to become your next commissioner. Many shared their stories and their concerns.
Giselle lives in a small cabin in a wooded area of Camano. She wanted to talk about the lack of healthcare coverage options she found in our County. She can’t find local providers with her insurance. I met Susan in North Whidbey. She raised her children here but now is concerned that the specialist she needed to see was in Mt. Vernon and her car is failing. I told her about transportation volunteers who might be able to help. Another woman I met is a homecare worker. She would like to retire herself but can’t afford it. She lost her business during the recession and barely makes enough to cover her transportation and housing. I referred her to a homecare agency closer to her home that I knew was hiring.
I also met a lovely couple in Coupeville who were supporting three of their elderly neighbors. One of their neighbors is 94 and they help him around his house and make sure he gets to the store. In retirement themselves, we talked about our desire to age in place, staying in the homes and communities we chose for our later years. We can work as neighbors and nonprofits to support our seniors but it is also the responsibility of local government to identify gaps and advocate for resources to meet those needs.
I will honor the volunteers and neighbors who help others. As a public servant, I will help connect people to care and develop online and tangible resources that address the gaps in care in our community. I will work to support our nonprofits that help our seniors. And I will advocate for public policy at the State and Federal level to assure we all can look forward to a dignified retirement and the ability to age in place.
Because my mother taught me, life happens when we are making plans. Sometimes we all need a little help.