Census will determine where, how to support older citizens

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There are $675 billion in federal funds on the block and where it goes depends upon the results of the 2020 Census. For seniors - those age 65 and older - the disbursal could enhance their health and welfare for the next 10 years.

More than 27 percent of Beaufort County's residents are age 65 or older, or 51,513 out of an estimated 188,715 people, according to the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is a U.S. Census Bureau survey mailed annually to 3.5 million addresses across the country that asks questions about topics from ancestry to the year your house was built, as well as demographic questions on age, sex and race.

In South Carolina, the survey showed that 20 percent of the state's population is age 65 and older: nearly 900,000 people out of the estimated 5,084,127 state residents.

You, your neighbor or your cousin in Milwaukee might have received the survey, as it is mailed to different addresses every year. The responses help local leaders and businesses follow the population changes in your town, including tracking the ages of its residents.

This year, the 2020 Census will begin to take into account the Baby Boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964. That generation numbers about 73 million, none of whom were 65 during the 2010 census. By 2030, they will all be at least 65.

According to the Census Bureau's Vintage Population Estimates, there were 52 million people age 65 and older in 2018. Now, nearly 10,000 a day are turning 65.

The impact the Boomers will have on the Census will determine where and how billions of federal dollars will be spent on public services in the next 10 years, including some programs designed specifically for seniors.

Those programs include more than Medicare, Medicare Part B - which is part of the Medicare health insurance program, no matter what the income, and SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the second-largest program that uses census statistics to allocate funds.

According to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, about 27 percent of those receiving SNAP are 55 and older, 15 percent of those using the program.

Social Services Block Grants are federally funded grants that support such programs as adult day care, community center lunches, home-delivered meals, and protection and remedy from physical and financial abuse.

Location matters when it comes to allocating funds for a senior population. Census Bureau statistics and other data help community planners see how close seniors are to the services they need. Plus it helps lawmakers and business people determine where to build health clinics, senior centers and age-specific residential communities.

Two programs offered in South Carolina include the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) and the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

SFMNP provides coupons to low-income seniors that they can exchange for fruits, vegetables, honey and fresh-cut herbs at local farmers' markets and community supported agriculture. The Department of Social Services manages this program and seniors can apply for eligibility at the Bluffton Senior Center, 61 Ulmer St.

The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the only federally funded, work-based, job-training program for older low-income individuals. The program is for those who enter or re-enter the work force. They receive work experience in nonprofit and public agencies, including schools, hospitals, day care centers and senior centers.

The South Carolina Department on Aging is seeking comments to help develop a comprehensive state plan for the program. Comments must be received by Pamela Grant at grantp@aging.sc.gov by March 1.

Whether you live in Toksook, Alaska, where the first 2020 Census enumeration has already taken place, or in West Quoddy Head, Maine, the eastern-most point of the United States, your answers on the 2020 Census will impact community programs paid for by that $675 billion.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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