Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) elders (65 years and older), is projected to grow by more than 350 percent from 1.6 million to 7.3 million individuals by 2060, making AAPI older adults the fastest-growing population among this age range. Eighty five percent of AAPI ages 65 and older are foreign-born, and in many AAPI subgroups, limited English proficiency rates are as high as 89 percent, posing very real risks of isolation and a challenge for accessing critical information. While poverty rates among older adults average 8 percent among whites, in certain AAPI subgroups, they range from 21 to 26 percent — well over two or three times the rate of white Americans. Lastly, in certain AAPI subgroups, uninsurance rates are as high as 19 percent, compared to 15 percent of the total population.

While these statistics did not exist when National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) was founded in 1979, community leaders were well aware of the access issues challenging AAPI elders, their families and the communities serving them. True to its founding values, NAPCA continues to serve as a bridge for AAPI elders to access important programs and benefits for which all Americans are eligible.

Millions of AAPI elders rely on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments to survive. Of those, NAPCA serves 10,000 limited English speaking elders through the Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese national, toll-free Asian language Helpline.  Many callers are eligible but need information and assistance in applying for benefits, either because they don’t know how or cannot access the system. Every year, NAPCA helps thousands of low-income AAPI elders navigate the Medicare Open Enrollment process and understand the eligibility requirements for Social Security, Medicare,  Low Income Subsidy, and Medicaid. NAPCA creates in-language tools to help limited English speakers understand Medicare and how to access affordable prescription drugs, and is always looking for opportunities to assist limited English speaking elders in accessing senior benefit programs they may be eligible for.

With the federal budget sequester now in effect, automatic spending cuts will be applied to all programs including those serving the most vulnerable: seniors who are already in the dire situation of having to choose between paying for medicine or other essential items like food or rent. While cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran benefits are not being implemented in March, they will take effect over a seven-month period during which time a compromise must be reached in order for funds to be restored.

These cuts will impact AAPI elders more directly because they are more heavily reliant on Social Security than other investment tools or pensions. In 2010, among AAPIs receiving Social Security, 31 percent of married couples and 53 percent of unmarried individuals relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. The average annual Social Security income at this time received by AAPI men ages 65 and older, was $13,214. For women of this age, it was $11,176. Cuts to these critical programs will directly impact the health and well-being of AAPI elders.

NAPCA and other organizations serving the AAPI community will face significant challenges providing services given these cuts. One hundred low-income AAPI elders will lose their minimum-wage training positions through NAPCA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, NAPCA’s toll-free, Asian-language Helpline could see further reductions of up to a third of staff hours per language line, while the need for information will only increase due to changes resulting from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

As we’ve seen in the last presidential election, the power of the AAPI voice can have great impact on decisions affecting our country. It is critical that the community understands the impact of the sequester and the importance of communicating to all lawmakers that a balanced approach to deficit reduction must not include further cuts to the vulnerable populations that we serve.

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