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Senior Friendship Centers hosts advocate for the needs of older Americans

Bob Blancato speaks at Senior Friendship Centers.
Bob Blancato speaks at Senior Friendship Centers.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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As Robert “Bob” Blancato concluded his speech at Senior Friendship Centers on May 8, Erin McLeod, president and CEO of the nonprofit, was eager to lead the audience in advocacy for seniors. 

“Anybody wants to go visit a local elected official’s office, call me, I'll go with you,” she told attendees. “It will make so much more impact."

McLeod was speaking to a room of mostly full seats, with many members of the community having turned out at the organization's Sarasota campus to hear the speech by the Washington, D.C.-based advocate, a special guest during Older Americans Month. 

Blancato is national coordinator for the Elder Justice Coalition, a bipartisan 3,000-member group that serves as a resource for Congress, the president and his administration, media, and the public, so his words on Senior Friendship Center carried some weight. 

“They're a model senior program for the country,” Blancato said, noting some of his family members in Sarasota once benefited from the organization and complementing its atmosphere and activities. 

In addition to his role with the coalition, Blancato is also president of Matz, Blancato and Associates, a Washington, D.C., firm providing strategic consulting, government relations and advocacy services; executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs; and national coordinator of the Defeat Malnutrition Today coalition. 

He last spoke at Senior Friendship Centers in 2022 alongside U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Programs. 

On the pulse of the issues

Blancato started by discussing the issue of ageism, something that he said unlike sexism and racism, can affect anyone. 

"Ageism is even more prolific right now, because everybody can be a victim of ageism as time goes on,” he said. 

Blancato suggested two main causes to focus on, the Older Americans Act and the Credit for Caring Act.

The Older Americans Act, which was established in 1965 to provide comprehensive services for older adults, is currently up for renewal in a bipartisan effort, Blancato said, stating it funds services including meals and transportation at Senior Friendship Centers. 

He said he was invited to testify before the eight senators working on the process. 

Bob Blancato speaks at Senior Friendship Centers.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“They asked good questions. There were no signs of trouble anywhere,” he said. 

One goal of this reauthorization is to fund the Older Americans Nutrition Program, which funds individual programs throughout the country, as well as provide incentives to return adults to programs they used prior to changing their behavior and eating meals at home during the pandemic. 

Another aim of the renewal, he said, is to provide senior centers with more recognition and funding support. 

“If you want to talk about advocacy, and you want to do advocacy in one place, if this Senior Friendship Center means anything to you, you should talk about it,” he said. “You should tell Congressman Buchanan and your two senators that they should support a strong Older Americans Act reauthorization this year, and tell them why it’s important to you.”

Blancato said the National Family Caregivers support group, a facet of the Older Americans Act, provides about $200 million in funding for the whole country, but also discussed the Credit for Caring Act, a bill in Congress that would provide a tax credit to the family caregiver.

There are 40 million families in the country with some responsibilities of caregivers, he said. 

“If we can give our tax breaks to multibillion dollar companies, why don't we help the family caregiver?” he said. “This is a bipartisan bill that has a chance of passing in this Congress.”

Blancato also highlighted other causes, such as elder abuse, including elder fraud. Across the country, he said, about $3.4 billion is lost by older adults due to scams.

Ron Turner, Erin McLeod and Bob Blancato
Photo by Ian Swaby

“We have been terribly deficient in this country, and in Florida alone, you're second in the country for elder fraud,” he said, highlighting a bill called the Elder Justice Act. 

He said this bill would fund causes including adult protective services and investigations and reporting of complaints in nursing homes, as well as staffing in nursing homes, although it is currently stalled due to a lack of bipartisan support.

Blancato's speech was followed by a speech by Ron Turner, Supervisor of Elections in Sarasota County who discussed the upcoming primary election in August and general election in November.

He described what to expect on the ballots, noting races such as the school and hospital boards will be featured on the ballot of the primary election, while offering details on the voting process.

"We've done some recent reprecincting in Sarasota County," he said. "We've added four additional precincts and nine additional polling locations. We've added a tenth early voting site for the general election in November. We have replaced all of our voting equipment in the county. We're going with brand new voting equipment, going into this presidential year. And the other thing that we did add that's new is an independent automated audit system."

Attendee Sherell Daniels said she enjoyed the program. She has cared for her mother, Altamese Daniels, since the death of her father six years ago.

“It’s great to get some information that I wasn't aware of at this current time,” she said. 

In addition to offering information, Blancato said he was also glad to be part of the recognition of seniors during May, which is Older Americans Month.

“From the Greatest Generation, to the boomers and on, it’s recognized now,” Blancato said. “The president issues a proclamation. It gets celebrated across the country. It is just that opportunity to pay tribute, but it isn't about older adults in the past; it’s about ongoing activities of older adults. They're still working, they're still contributing, they’re still engaged.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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