Caregivers Can Take Advantage of Free Credit Freeze Law

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 14, 2018

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin touts a new federal consumer protection law, signed into law by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018, that protects seniors from becoming victims of financial exploitation. Rhode Island’s Attorney General says that this law enhances Rhode Island’s law prohibiting credit reporting agencies from charging fees for credit freezes,(also referred to as a security freeze).

With enactment of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, all consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit file for free for one year. Before this new law, fees were assessed, usually costing from $3 to $10 (though some states were free) to restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for others to open new accounts in another person’s name.

The new law lets people with certain legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf to freeze and unfreeze their credit file. It defines a “protected consumer” as an incapacitated person, someone with an appointed guardian or conservator, or a child under the age of 16. In addition, it extends the duration of a fraud alert on a consumer’s credit report from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account.

“Many instances of financial exploitation include a person opening up credit cards or using the credit file of another for personal gain and identity theft. This added layer of protection will allow a guardian or financial caregiver the ability better safeguard the older person from being taken advantage of by a stranger or even someone they know and thought they could trust,”says Kilmartin.

To place a credit freeze on their accounts, consumers will need to contact all three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’re acting on behalf of a protected consumer, you must give the credit reporting agencies proof of authority before you can freeze and unfreeze the protected consumer’s credit. Proof of authority includes: a court order (such as an order naming you guardian or conservator; a valid power of attorney, and proof of your identity, which can be a Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license or other government issued identification.

Whether consumers ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must put the freeze in place within one business day. When consumers request to lift the freeze by phone or online, the credit bureaus must take that action within one hour. (If consumers make these requests by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days).
To place a fraud alert, consumers need only contact one of the three credit bureaus, which will notify the other two bureaus.

Rhode Island’s Credit Freeze Law

Filed at the request of Kilmartin and enacted earlier this year, the Rhode Island law eliminates a provision of existing state law that allows reporting agencies to charge up to $10 to consumers who ask for a credit freeze.

The legislation, which the sponsors introduced on behalf of Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin, stems from the Equifax security breach last year during which the credit information of 143 million Americans was exposed. Initially, Equifax was charging consumers who asked for a credit freeze to protect themselves from its own security breach, although it stopped after intense public outcry and pressure from numerous attorneys general.

At the time the law was enacted, Kilmartin said, “This is a big victory for Rhode Island consumers, giving them greater control over who can access their personal and financial information. Credit bureaus make money from selling our personal information to third parties. They should not be able to profit off consumers who decide to take control over who has access to their personal data.”

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors

“AARP applauds all efforts to protect older Rhode Islanders from phone and online credit scams that lead to identity theft,” says AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Clearly, many consumers, and especially many of Rhode Island’s 134,000 caregivers, will consider taking advantage of this new option. It certainly complements the work we are doing as part of AARP Fraud Watch to thwart con artists who prey relentlessly on people of all ages.

“In the case of older Rhode Islanders, life savings can be at risk. “The new federal law allows caregivers to acquire legal authority to freeze a loved one’s credit reports, and that’s a good thing. But it is important to note that there are many things a caregiver should consider. Basically, caregivers need to have conversations about the threat and what everyone should be doing to protect against credit theft,” she added.

AARP’s John Martin said when he presents the Fraud Watch program to community groups he urges people to think about fraud prevention in the same way training and professional development is part of their work experience. “In the workplace, your job includes being up to speed on the latest policies, regulations and best practices,” Martin tells audiences. “Lawyers read law reviews, doctors read medical journals, tugboat captains read The Shipping News. Failure to do so could lead to a missed opportunity or a big mistake. Given the enormous threats out there, we all should consider keeping up on the latest scams and implementing precautions something like a part-time job that requires similar diligence. To do otherwise increases your risk and the stakes are frighteningly high.”

Connell warns not to forget the basics. “AARP provides common-sense advice, awareness and precautions as well as alerts when new scams are exposed or an old one reappears,” she says. “Don’t be passive and please do encourage older family members to be on guard. We are all in this together.”

Anyone can sign up for the free Fraud Watch Network service at http://www.aarp.org/RIFraudwatch to receive alerts and report scams or other suspicious activity.

Reporting Financial Exploitation

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General recommends that if you believe you or an older relative are victims of financial exploitation, contact your local police department, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, or the Elder Abuse Unit at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.

If you would like an investigator at the Elder Abuse Unit or an investigator with the Consumer Protection Unit to speak with your organization on the signs of elder abuse or how to protect from being a victim of a scam, please contact Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, at mdriscoll@riag.ri.gov or Martha Crippen, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, at mcrippen@riag.ri.gov or by calling 401-274-4400.

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The First of the Generation Xers Starting (Gulp) to hit the Big 50

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 10, 2016

With the New Year’s celebration on January 1, the first of America’s 62 million Generation Xers are on AARP’s radar screen as potential members. These individuals have hit a demographic milestone, turning age 50 this year.  Now, it’s time for the generation that is following the Baby Boomers, to begin thinking about their later years and what resources they will need if they are thrust into the role of caregiver for their parents and grandparents.

Demographers says that Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) is the middle generation, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  “As they grow older, it is important to acknowledge that they are having a different experience than their cohorts, and that they are more than just an unsung demographic who wore parachute pants and acid wash jeans,” says a recent AARP press statement, announcing the first arrival of this generation into their fifth decade.

The First Vanguard of Gen Xer’s Turn 50

AARP notes in 2015, 4.4 million Gen Xers hit the big-5-0.  This year another 4.1 million are expected to join the ranks of Americans over age 50, notes AARP, predicting that this generation will take on the role of challenging “outdated perceptions of aging and empower people to take control of their futures”

“AARP is excited to welcome Generation X to the 50-plus community and be a resource for them as they embrace their age and live the life that they want,” said Sami Hassanyeh, AARP Chief Digital Officer. “They face different challenges and have different goals than their predecessors, and deserve every opportunity to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.”

According to the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization, Generation Xers carry far more fiscal responsibilities than previous generations have or even the next one, the Millennial Generation.  Now, in their 40s and 50s, this generation is financially supporting their children while being caregivers for their aging parents.  With life expectancy increasing Generation Xers must continue working to pay the bills, but like the aging baby boomers must rethink the concept of growing old and where they will put their time and energy in retirement.

“Though Generation Xers feel less financially secure than their parents in regards to retirement, they also plan to work longer and embrace new opportunities in this evolving life phase. Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, and many are already taking steps towards increasing their longevity – 87% consider themselves in good health and 55% maintain a healthy diet. They are re-imagining this life transition and expect their future years to be more flexible and rewarding than ever before,” says the AARP statement.

Key Generation Xer’s Metrics

AARP Research provides a snap shoot the Generation Xers (www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2015/generation-x-snapshots.html?cmp=RDRCT-GNXNST_DEC08_015).  As to diversity: sixty percent are white; 18 percent Hispanic/Latino; 12 percent are African and 7 percent Asian.  Most are married (64%) but one in five (19%) have never married.  Fifty percent of Generation Xers have children age 18 years or younger living at home while 67 percent of this generation have children of any age living at home.  This generation is well-educated with 35 percent receiving a Bachelor’s degree or higher (35%). Twenty seven percent have some college education.  The median income of this generation is $70,501.

Fifty six percent of this generation feels overwhelmed with financial burden (carrying an average debt of $111,000). Fifty five percent use the internet for on-line banking.

But, when thinking about retirement, 35 percent are confident they will have enough income to live the life they envision in retirement.  But, few Generation Xers are confident Medicare (34%) and Social Security (24%) will be available to them like it is for those currently receiving the retirement checks.

Looking at health, Generation Xers say that “the number one element for a good life is good health.”  They take responsibility for maintaining their health and well- being, too. Eighty six percent of this generation has health insurance.  Seventy two percent say that they trust their physicians the most for health information.

“From my perspective, this age group entering our membership demographic signals an opportunity for AARP to build our relevance in the lower end of the 50+ population,” said John Martin, Director of Communications at AARP Rhode Island. “When I meet these folks I get excited because more likely than not, they have been connected to the Internet for some time and are up to speed when it comes to technology and social media.

Time is on Their Side

“Generation X, the research shows, is quite forward-looking – as well as motivated — when it comes to working and living in one’s 50s with an eye toward health & fitness, retirement planning and having a say in making sure one’s community is heading in the right direction. The good news for Generation X, I would say, is that time is on their side. They can make changes during the final 15-20 years of their work life that will make everything after much better. So, when they embrace online resources and I can keep them current via email on issues relevant to the road ahead it is very exciting,” Martin added.

“I am pleasantly surprised when I meet people across Rhode Island who declare ‘now that I’m 50’ it’s time to join AARP. To me, what they are saying is that they get it,  that membership represents a transition that is all about fulfilling their aspirations and building confidence that they will live out their lives with independence and dignity.”

AARP is no longer the membership organization for just the Greatest Generation (1900 to 1924), the Silent Generation (1925 to 1944) and Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). It is fr Gen Xers (1965 to 1984), too, especially if they want to take control of the quality of life they will experience in their retirement years and beyond.

For more information about AARP, go to AARP.org.

 

 

 

 

Local Filmmaker Documents Innovative Hunger Project in Maine

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 3, 2015

Last July, long-time Rhode Island resident, John Martin, who filmed the 2013 web-based hunger documentary, “Hungry in the West End,” packed his bags and equipment to head off to rural Northern Maine. Martin, an AARP award-winning AARP filmmaker and AARP’s Communication’s Director, began filming a new short film to put a spotlight on the work of Dale Flewelling, to feed Maine’s hungry. The life-long resident of Houlton in Aroostook County, who founded the of Friends of Aroostock, a nonprofit agency, has worked for nearly seven years to provide fresh locally grown produce and emergency winter fire wood to low-income families throughout Aroostook County.

Maine AARP’s commissioned short film on Flewelling’s efforts, titled “With Friends Like These: Dale Flewelling & Friends of Aroostook,” profiles the retired businessman’s “passionate and charming crusade” to enlist friends, volunteers, leaders and businesses to help seniors in Aroostook and Washington Counties suffering daily from food insecurity.

After watching Martin’s short film (just over 11 minutes), it gives a simple message. By bringing together the community and working together we can put nutritious, fresh food on the tables of the nation’s needy. Creative ways of growing food, like at Aroostock’s farm, should be organized on farms throughout Rhode Island and the nation.

Yes, in hard times getting your hands dirty (by harvesting crops) rather than complaining may well be a simple solution to reducing hunger in America.

Stars Fall in Alignment

Looking back, Martin says, “Some things seem meant to be. There was a last-minute cancellation by a videographer who had been hired to shoot the film for our Maine State Office. In a bind, they turned to me, based on my, “Hungry in the West End,” he says.

Martin, a former Providence Journal reporter, says, “This was a dream assignment. The location was gorgeous. Overnight rained stopped right on cue. People were doing things more than talking about things, which is a lot better way of telling a story. I chose to follow Dale around during part of the day rather than sit him down for an interview. He is not big on sitting and, so, that may have been the best decision I made. And at the end of the day he insisted on loading me up with green beans, Maine potatoes dug that very afternoon, tomatoes and zucchini. How good is that?”

According to Martin, first impression of the town of Houlton was that of a community hit hard by the nation’s recent recession. “Last summer, no one was talking much about an economic recovery there,” he remembers. After an overnight stay at a trucker’s motel, Martin began his filming at Aroostook Farm at 5:30 a.m. “I was pretty shocked to see volunteers already at work picking string beans,” he says.

Martin notes that Flewelling is as charming in real life as he comes across in the film, observing that his work has added tremendous meaning to his retirement.

“It only occurred to me recently that I thought I was making a hunger film, but as far as AARP is concerned, it also is a great example of Life Reimagined – AARP’s resource for making life decisions, adapting to change and developing next-chapter careers,” says Martin, adding that Flewelling “personifies the benefits of identifying your “what next” opportunity and pursuing a dream.”
“He is so connected to the earth and growing food. You have to give him credit for finding a great place to focus his energy in his life after running a business,” states Marin.

“Also, for me the day at Aroostook revealed the great need the community faces,” Martin added. “In contrast to the urban poverty that frames the issue in the West End of Providence, here you find people who lived well for generations in rural Maine who are increasingly unable to meet their monthly expenses based on little or no personal savings and sometimes minimal Social Security benefits”.

But either way, these seniors are worried about outliving their resources, he says.

We Can Be Part of the Solution

“My conclusion after spending six months reporting in the West End [in Providence] was that government can do only so much; non-profits are helping as best they; but volunteers can make a huge difference. I hope that both Hungry in the West End and With Friends Like These sparks recognition that when you volunteer to help feed struggling seniors, the feeling you get back is a tremendous reward. We all can be part of the solution. And younger people, especially, need to pay it forward because some day they may be the ones needing help,” says Martin.

Dale Flewelling, executive director of the Friends of Aroostook, says “Generally speaking, a young organization such as Friends of Aroostook has to make a decision whether to utilize financial resources to build capacity or spend money on publicity and awareness. Like many, if not most, we choose to build capacity. To have John travel all the way from Rhode Island to Northern Maine and committing many hours and his talents to produce this film is almost overwhelming.“

“Words can’t describe the benefit this film brings to our programs. Friends of Aroostook and the hungry we serve own a heartfelt thank you to John, AARP Maine State Director Lori Parham and everyone at AARP who address the hunger needs within our less fortunate population, adds Flewelling, noting that this problem “is not going away. “But as you can see, people can make a big difference. So the film means a lot.”

Getting People Involved

“One of the results of Dale’s work at Aroostook Farm is that people see him in action out in the fields and better understand both the importance of the work and Dale’s ability to get people involved,” says Lori Parham, State Director, AARP Maine:

Parham says actually seeing people work the farm land makes it far “less intimidating” for those who might be reluctant to seek out or ask for help. “As the film shows, the neediest seniors are actually helping others – they pick a bag for themselves, and then pick a bag for someone else. We knew that capturing these images and sentiments in a short video would be a great way to illustrate Dale’s efforts to relieve hunger in Maine,” she says..

“John knows a lot about senior hunger and he is a great visual storyteller. We hope that the film inspires people from across Maine and other parts of the country to join in similar movements to engage entire communities and create a shared resource that, quite literally, can grow from season to season, notes Parham.

To watch, “With Friends Like These,” go to http://states.aarp.org/category/rhode-island/.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering Aging, Health Care and Medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

AARP No Longer Your Grandmother’s Membership Organization

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 15, 2013

             With the printing of a full-page four-colored ad in the February 25, 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine,  AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group, moved to reinvent its membership image by rolling out an ad campaign to lure the nation’s aging baby boomers into its rank and file. At that time the public viewed an AARP member as being in their sixties gliding into the twilight of their  retirement years.  One simple ad consisting of a picture of a shirtless, lean, aging baby boomer carrying his mud-caked mountain bike, worked effectively to change this misperception.   AARP members were not moving into their twilight years but still young, vibrant, and even active. 

             “Be Yourself,” blared the ad’s tag line, identifying the 50ish male with gray hair in the ad: “Peter Carlstrom, 51, cyclist, canoeist, an AARP Member.”

             In 2002, with the kickoff of this media campaign, the nation’s largest aging group, representing 35 million members in that year, geared up efforts to recruit the growing number of the nation’s baby boomer generation – born between 1946 to 1964 – into its membership ranks.

             Baby boomers don’t make compromises, said AARP’s membership recruitment ad over a decade ago – “They make choices.”  Furthermore, the ad stated that AARP was there to help with fitness programs, and to provide information on making healthy choices in a myriad of ways, including eating right and staying fit.        

“Real Possibilities” Ad Campaign Kicks Off

             Today, AARP continues to attack the misperception associated with its brand and with aging stereotypes, by launching another national advertising campaign.  According to the Washington, DC-based group, “Real Possibilities” aims to revitalize and repositioning AARP as a membership organization that is relevant that can deliver messages of strength and empowerment. “Real Possibilities” will now serve as the organization’s new tagline and will be implemented into the existing AARP logo.

             AARP’s new public relations campaign, created by GREY, seeks to show not only what the face of 50+ looks like today, but more importantly, the new mindset of people entering or already in this life stage.  It will run in TV and digital media through October 2013. 

             AARP is putting one-third of its “Real Possibilities” media buy towards social and digital media and the ads will appear on more lifestyle outlets as opposed to the news-focused outlets they’ve primarily appeared on in the past.  Ads will drive consumers to a newly created landing page http://www.aarp.org/possibilities, where they will be able to access content that is most relevant to the 50+ audience looking to achieve their “real possibilities.”

             “People are looking for a trusted ally to help them turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, and that’s where AARP can help them and their families,” said A. Barry Rand, CEO, AARP. “This is an opportunity to reintroduce AARP to the public and show the value that we provide to the 50+ audience. We think this campaign effectively demonstrates how AARP is relevant to them.”

             AARP is shifting the focal point of the conversation from aging and advice, to a deeper level of personal connection and empowerment. People age 50+ don’t want to be defined by age, and they don’t want to live in fear that their possibilities become more limited as they get older.

             “Possibilities are critical to this audience and millions of people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are living in a new life stage—the age of possibility,” said Emilio Pardo, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer, AARP. “We want to show how their life experiences have tremendous value and that possibilities should not be less, they should be ageless.”

 Reintroducing AARP to a Younger Crowd

             While some may see AARP’s new marketing effort as a way to expand its membership base to younger members, for AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, its very practical to bring aging baby boomers in early.         

                “As AARP evolved it became evident that most things about ‘retirement’ require attention well before the day people retire, Martin, citing his favorite example, retirement security.

             “How can we help members plan for a secure retirement if we wait until retirement to reach out and offer resources and assistance?  And then there is the more current qustion: If, say, at 52 you are working full time but feeling the weight of college tuition, rising taxes and you’ve seen the equity in your home plummet, you should not wait until retirement age to make your voice heard on Medicare and Social Security.  Most 50-year-old Americans now recognize they have a vital stake in the sustainability of these programs.”

             According to Martin, retiring in dignity also depends on one’s health. “It’s awfully hard to turn things around when you are 65, so AARP needs to connect with people earlier to provide health and fitness resources that might make life at 70 or 80 more enjoyable, he says.

              “Another outcome of reaching those ages in better health is that people have created at least a better chance of saving on healthcare costs.”  He asks, “How can AARP promote the benefits of staying active and mobile if we have not been encouraging better diet, exercise and preventative care as retirement approaches?”

             Martin says people welcome such notions as “60 is the new 50.” He points out that media images of the serene couple relaxing in easy chairs has been replaced by CNN stories about people skydiving to celebrate their 70th birthday or 80-year-old competitive swim champions.  “We Boomers live for the hope that we can reach retirement in better physical and mental shape than our parents. A generation ago, society was telling people to retire, collect Social Security and act their age – to accept the gold watch at 62 or 65 and ride off quietly into the sunset. No more,” he says.

 Great AARP Websites

            AARP is working hard to be the best resource, online, in-person and in communities to help aging baby boomers and those older to discover new possibilities, notes Martin. As part of the “Real Possibilities” initiative, AARP offers a way to reimagine your life (lifereimagined.aarp.org).  This website offers people over age 50 with an opportunity to design his or her own reimagined life.

            Also AARP recently launched a dating service. And why not?, asks Martin. “Happiness and romance is not reserved for those couples in the beer commercials. Think about online dating services of the past decade or two. Did many seem at all tailored to or comfortable for anyone over 50?  The AARP brand and all that we stand for makes taking a chance a lot more comfortable.”

            With the graying of America, AARP has redefined its mission and repacked itself twice in the past 13 years. The redirected membership organization, expanding its generational reach, now strives to make a person’s journey throughout their entire lifespan a little easier, a bit better and brighter.

            Now isn’t that worth the cost of an AARP membership.  For more information about AARP membership and benefits, log on to www.aarp.org/join or call AARP Rhode at 401-248-2663 and request a membership application. AARP’s Web site is in Spanish, too, at www.aarp.org/espanol

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

AARP Rhode Island Web Report Puts Spotlight on Hunger

Published December 28, 2012, Pawtucket Times

Especially during the holiday festivities this week the plight of Rhode Island’s hungry seniors in Providence’s West End Community and throughout the Ocean State, may have remained hidden to many Rhode Islanders, especially at Christmas Dinner, who gathered with families and friends to eat turkey, ham, the fixings, topped off with delicious pastries, and even pies.

But with the funding support of AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger, AARP Rhode Island officially launches its Hungry in the West End investigative web report next week, to ratchet up the public’s awareness that seniors do go hungry every day in this Providence neighborhood and throughout Rhode Island’s 39 Cities and Towns.

Executive Director, Kathleen S. Connell, of AARP Rhode Island, notes that, according the USDA statistics, 67,000 Rhode Island households are considered “food insecure,” which means families do not always have the financial ability to purchase adequate food. “Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Rhode Island households,” she adds, “receive SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits.

Targeting the West End of Providence

According to Connell, the West End of Providence is the city’s — and the state’s – most economically challenged community. The unemployment rate among its largely Hispanic population exceeds 20 percent, more than double the state average, she says.

Connell adds that hidden in the West End are the “elderly hungry,” whose “food insecurity” is reflected in the number of people who must rely on the federal SNAP program, Meals on Wheels, congregate meals sites at senior centers and neighborhood food pantries to eat.

To get the story out about Senior hunger, former journalist and now AARP Rhode Island’s Director of Communications, John Martin, worked closely with former Providence Journal reporter, Jody McPhillips to investigate and put this issue on the radar screen of the general public as well as the Rhode Island General Assembly and state policy makers.

One disturbing fact came to light during Martin and McPhillips’ interviews, is that resources to relieve hunger are “stretched thin. Federal and state funding to end hunger have not kept pace with the problem. For instance, the Rhode Island General Assembly funding for Meals on Wheels is below funding levels of four years ago, before the nation’s worst recession began.

The Web-based reports, to premiere on Friday, January 4, 2013 at http://www.aarp.org/ri, clearly showcase this daunting domestic issue. What you will see are McPhillips’s eight separate stories, added one per day, many parts of which are supplemented by links to Martin’s videos. They range from extended interviews with McPhillips’s sources, to vignettes shot on various locations, including at the Rhode Island Food Bank, with a Meals on Wheels driver, at food pantries and senior centers, and at the Sodexo family food weekend backpacks program. Also, Martin has put together an overarching video in documentary form that will be posted on the site in segments ranging from four to five minutes each.

Before next week’s premiere you can watch a video preview of this project at – the Web site listed above.

Hunger, One of America’s Biggest Domestic Issues

Connell says that “Hunger and goes hand in hand with a host of serious health consequences – including diabetes, depression, even malnutrition. These are big issues that America faces today. It’s not just a ‘senior problem,’ it’s a societal problem, too. As someone has posted on our Facebook page, senior hunger is simply a disgrace.

“One of our conclusions [noted in the Web-based reports] is that that a lot is being done to help address senior hunger. But federal and state money is not a one-sized fits all solution. For the truly isolated seniors – especially those with disabilities and health issues — well-stocked food pantries may not be a practical resource,” noted Connell.

“We think people who read and watch Hungry in the West End will reach their own conclusions about how we tackle this on a one-to-one basis. It’s a call to action for people to be more aware of senior hunger and to reach out personally to those who might need help,” says Connell.

Connell asks: “Is there someone you can check on? Can you offer someone a ride to the supermarket when you go shopping? Or offer to pick something up? Can you visit a food pantry on their behalf? Perhaps you can ask if they would like some help in signing up for Meals on Wheels or applying for SNAP.”

Connell even knows of a group in one Rhode Island community where “volunteering” means preparing an extra meal each week for someone in need.

For AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, “I can only say it has been a privilege to become better educated about senior hunger in Rhode Island. Jody and I met scores of people making a difference. But we also saw the great need that is out there. Each step of the way, however, we kept questioning who we were missing. The sad fact is that isolated seniors – by definition – can be all but invisible. In fact, one person said that first contact with some hungry and suffering seniors is a response to a 911 call.

“A lot of talk about hunger is focused on people out of work who are trying to feed their families,” says Martin. But this project brings the issue of senior hunger to the forefront — a problem that may not change much even if the economy makes a healthy rebound, he believes.

Martin states, “It’s not as if a stronger economy means isolated seniors on fixed incomes are going to have more money to spend on utilities, prescription medicines and groceries. And it has always been true that when seniors are forced to choose among those three expenses, groceries likely will be last on the list.”

A Preview….

Aptly put, the problem seems simple but not the solutions, so says McPhillips in her first Web report.

Luz Navarro, a diabetic with part of her left foot amputated, has been on dialysis for four years. The 62-year-old former insurance agent is now housebound, living with her cat. The independently-minded Navarro, can barely stand to cook at the stove and must now rely on Meals on Wheels, delivering her lunch five times a week.

McPhillips illustrates how difficult it is for older person’s to get enough to eat. Navarro, like many of the State’s elderly who are homebound, can’t drive to get to the market, or to a food pantry when money is tight. Nor can she walk to a Senior Center to have lunch and socialize with others.

As McPhillips quipps, “while pundits debate,” Mrs. Navarro needs to eat. While some in Congress denounce the social safety net for creating a culture of dependency, others call for funding to provide food for the needy even with a huge federal deficit.

Senior Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) makes an appearance, calling for the continuation of funding to the state’s SNAP program to feed the growing number of hungry.

Also, Catherine Taylor, director of the state Division of Elderly Affairs, says she sees a future looking darker rather than brighter, for Navarro, and other homebound seniors.

In an era of shrinking budgets, it’s becoming harder to do the things necessary to help older people stay in their homes for as long as possible, admits Taylor.

She warns that federal funding for food programs may be slashed as Congress is forced to rein in the nation’s huge deficit. Food and gas price increases will hit older person’s where it hurts, in their pocket books, predicts Taylor, making it more difficult for them to purchase groceries.

Hopefully, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, will get Taylor’s message at the conclusion of McPhillips’ fine investigative piece: “It’s up to us to picture the world we want to age in,” and to work to bring it about.”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based freelance who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.