By Jason Kavulich
Pennsylvania is home to more than 13 million people according to the 2020 Census, with more than 2.5 million of those residents being aged 65 and older. The growth rate of the Commonwealth's older adult population is more than 20 times higher than the growth rate of its entire population. As the population ages, we expect many will remain here to live out their golden years. According to U.S. News & World Report, that seems to be a good thing.
The company recently released its ranking of the 150 best places to retire in the U.S. and seven of the top 10 are in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg took top honors, followed by Reading, Lancaster, Scranton, Allentown, York, and Pittsburgh. The company looked at six areas as part of its ranking results: affordability, happiness, desirability, retiree taxes, job market, and health care quality.
As a lifelong Scrantonian and proud Pennsylvanian, I'm boastful of Scranton's #4 ranking, and not at all surprised by our state's showing. Scranton and its surrounding communities, that I know so well, represent what I see as I travel across our amazing Commonwealth: welcoming communities that take an interest in the health, safety and well-being of their neighbors working with committed civic leaders to make sure we have the programs, supports, and services we need for older adults to live with dignity, independence and above all else, age in place.
One of many critical factors that sets us apart is the Pennsylvania Lottery -- the only state lottery that designates all its proceeds to programs for older adults. That money translates into supports offered through the Commonwealth's 52 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), which coordinate services on the local level including home-delivered meals, 500 Senior Centers, in-home services, protective services, and more. The Lottery proceeds also support the PACE program, a national model which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary of providing low-cost prescriptions to over 1.6 million qualified older Pennsylvanians.
Another popular Lottery-funded program serving older adults for decades is the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program (PTRR). Administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, this program provides older adults rebates on property taxes and rent paid in a previous year.
Starting in January 2024, this popular program will see some much overdue updates thanks to Governor Josh Shapiro. In his inaugural budget, he delivered the largest targeted tax break for older Pennsylvanians in nearly two decades. The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program expansion will raise the maximum amount of the rebates, increase income limit eligibility, and tie the income caps to the cost-of-living moving forward.
The Governor's budget also invested an additional $1 million in Senior Community Center grants to create a non-competitive grant program. This will allow more centers to receive grants to continue creating safe spaces for seniors to stay connected, improve their physical and emotional health, continue on the path of lifelong learning and share a meal with a neighbor. The budget allocated an additional $5 million to the Help at Home (OPTIONS) program which aids eligible adults to continue living in their homes. This funding will assist in removing more than 1,200 older adults from existing waitlists..
In addition to those investments for seniors, Governor Shapiro signed an executive order in May to direct the Department to develop a Master Plan for Older Adults. This plan is a 10-year, state-led and stakeholder-driven strategic plan designed to help transform the infrastructure and coordination of services for older Pennsylvanians.
The Department and our stakeholder partners are currently reviewing input on the plan from thousands of Pennsylvanians and will accept input until the end of the year. If anyone plans on aging in this Commonwealth, I invite them to provide feedback. Everyone can learn the various ways they can have their voices heard by visiting the Master Plan webpage on the department's website. The Master Plan will be published before the Governor's second budget address in February 2024, and it will chart a brighter future for aging in Pennsylvania.
It's clear why Pennsylvania dominates U.S. News and World's list: not only do we have a growing population of older adults, but Pennsylvania has also taken critical steps to allow them to remain in their homes and to be active in their communities.. The health, well-being and quality of life for older Pennsylvanians are clear priorities for the Shapiro Administration, the Commonwealth, and the Department. For any older adult who may be seeking services and supports in their community, I encourage them to visit the Department of Aging's website or contact their local AAA. We are here to help achieve that brighter future for all.
Jason Kavulich is the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.