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COVID-19 funding: Seniors both need more and give more

September 10, 2020 Category: FeaturedFundingLong
There are two views when it comes to senior citizens and philanthropy.

There are the senior citizens in need — the physically frail, economically vulnerable, and socially isolated seniors for whom COVID-19 has been a major disaster. For them, especially the population in long-term care facilities, the need for assistance has never been higher.

Eighty percent of the COVID-19 deaths are among people 65 and older and most of these deaths have occurred in long-term care (LTC)  facilities. In Pennsylvania, LTC’s are home to more than 45,000 people and another 80,000 state residents live in 693 skilled nursing facilities. Residents and workers at long-term care facilities were responsible for 40% of the COVID-19 deaths. And African American seniors have been particularly hard hit. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that African Americans from 65 to 74 years old died of COVID-19 at a rate five times that of their white peers.

And then there are wealth issues.

The senior citizen poverty rate has plummeted in the past 50 years, but as the numbers of elderly are increasing, so too is the poverty rate. In 2017, 4.7 million Americans aged 65 and older, almost one out of 10, had an income level below the poverty line.

In Philadelphia,  over a quarter of the residents over 65 live on an income of less than $24,000, which brings a plethora of issues  — among them are unmanaged chronic illnesses, food insecurity and housing instability.

Diane Menio, executive eirector of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) wrote that “by even the most conservative measures, older Black adults experience more than twice the rate of poverty as whites leading to a vast racial wealth gap among older adults. The median household wealth of older Black adults is just $55,000 compared to $280,900 for older white adults.”

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Despite the need, age-related funding has yet to capture donors’ interest.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) created their own COVID-19 Community Response Fund and distributed its first round of funding to three senior serving nonprofits. For the next round, NCOA will award another three to four awards, each capped at $10,000. The grant application portal will be open from September 22 to October 16, 2020.

But that is the exception.

For the Delaware Valley, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy estimates that of the $11.3 million that has been awarded to COVID-related health causes, only 1%, or $131,500 was directed to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

And The Foundation Center reported that  only 2% of foundation giving is devoted to aging programs — a figure that hasn’t changed in two decades despite an explosion in numbers of aging Baby Boomers. These are people born between 1946 and 1964, which means the oldest are in their 70s.

The lack of donor giving may be the result of a plethora of governmental programs for seniors including Social Security and Medicare and SNAP (food stamps) which means there are few media images of old age suffering.

Area Agencies on Aging were established in 1973 and are designated to provide for the elderly to live a dignified life. This is accomplished through a combination of local partnerships and direct service. According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, most of their agencies’ funding comes from governmental sources. The local agency, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the region employing more than 400 full-time staff.

But there is another view of senior citizens — not as recipients of philanthropy but as  donors.

In 2019, Americans gave almost $450 billion to charity to address some of the country’s most intractable issues, and research says older respondents donated more than their younger counterparts. Senior citizens are a formidable charitable force because giving reaches its peak after people turn 65.

When the Philanthropy Roundtable took a closer look in 2014 at who made the most charitable contributions, older households out-gave the younger households headed by people 26 to 45 years old.  The reasons are generally because seniors have more time, more savings and more motivation. Older Americans, are also preparing to make bequests of close to $30 trillion to their families and favorite charities.

But the motivation of giving is markedly different for Baby Boomers than Millennials. Senior citizens give to trusted nonprofit and religious organizations who they assume will be effective.  They generally trust that the nonprofits will use their donations in the best possible manner. Rarely, if ever, do they seek out tangible evidence regarding the outcome of their giving. They also have a clear boundary between their for-profit investment choices and their nonprofit charitable giving decisions.

For millennials, investment decisions, charitable giving and daily purchasing decisions are entwined and shape lifestyle choices which prioritize social justice. This means that millennials will seek out brands that are connected to a cause they value. Purchasing the brand will be considered a charitable contribution.  This means that affluent millennials are less likely to make cash contributions to nonprofits.

According to the last census, over 12% of Philadelphians are 65 or older. And so as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, they are either entering the height of their giving years, or the depths of their needy ones.



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