If you’ve ever felt that older adults and programs that serve them have been missing from conversations in Congress and the lay media about Build Back Better plan negotiations, LeadingAge has the depressing stats to validate your feelings.

An analysis shared by the organization on Friday found that from March 31 to Oct. 20:

  • Only 232 of 19,108 press releases from Congress — 1.21% — included older Americans in the context of Build Back Better plans.
  • Out of 265,279 tweets from members of Congress, only 139, or 0.05%, included older adults in the context of Build Back Better.
  • On the floor of the House and Senate, only 31 members of Congress out of 535, or 5.8%, have mentioned older Americans in the context of Build Back Better.

It probably won’t surprise you, then, to learn that according to the analysis, only 5.85% of lay media coverage of Build Back Better has included a reference to older Americans — even though the proposal includes historic new investments to help meet older adults’ needs.

Why does this matter?

“When older Americans were treated as invisible during COVID, the effects were catastrophic,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said. “We cannot let them be invisible again.” 

But stories that should have “moved lawmakers to tears and journalists to rage” during the coronavirus pandemic only did so Intermittently, Sloan said Sunday during the opening session of the organization’s 2021 Annual Meeting + Expo in Atlanta. “We faced so many barriers, wrought from ageism, ignorance and denial,” she said.

To ignore the needs of older adults now, Sloan said, would have “catastrophic human consequences for older Americans and their families.” And it also would be going against the will of the people.

Americans across the political spectrum support investments in care and services for millions of seniors and their families, according to a survey commissioned by LeadingAge. Specifically, the group says:

  • 91% said older Americans should have the support and resources they need to lead a fulfilling life.
  • 89% said they support increased investment in affordable home care services.
  • 86% said they support increased investment in housing and support for low-income older adults.
  • 86% said that the government must make a bigger investment in services and care for older adults.
  • 83% said that elected officials have failed older adults and the people who care for them by ignoring and underfunding America’s aging services for decades.

“We must help our leaders understand what is at stake,” Sloan said Sunday, stressing the importance of the reconciliation bill package expanding home- and community-based services, helping long-term care providers offer competitive wages to recruit and retain competent workers, and increasing the supply of affordable senior housing. “These investments must be non-negotiable,” she said.

“If Congress puts the needs of older Americans on the chopping block, it will be one of their greatest failures ever,” Sloan said.

Her remarks are another reminder of the work that remains to be done to make sure that doesn’t happen.