THE BLOG
06/14/2011 10:43 am ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

Who Will Care For Us?

We're getting older in America, yet we don't seem to be getting much wiser. Against the backdrop of an aging society and a renewed emphasis on reform of social security, maybe it is time for all of us -- citizens and our elected officials -- to take a time-out to think. Like Dennis the Menace, we may need a space in the corner of our lives to reflect.

Over the next few weeks, I am writing a series about the way our government (and, therefore, we) care for one another. This is the first installment beginning with America's seniors (those 55 and older).

107.6 million Americans will turn 65 years of age by 2030 (one third of our population). I will be one of them. Perhaps you will as well. While I am convicted that I shall never grow old, can work until I drop and avoid all maladies of the flesh that might way lay me, the statistics suggest otherwise.

Those 107 million and I need our best thinking and focus. I am worried that our elected officials (and we) are spending a disproportionate amount of energy and time on issues that will matter very little to us when we cannot get the services we need or our children or caretakers struggle to provide those services at home.

For example, I doubt very seriously that any one of us will care if our neighbor in a nursing facility is gay (or not), married or not, served in the military in the closet or not, when there are no dollars left or sustainable plans to ensure that we are safe and supported in a crisis when we are 65 or older.

When we get kicked to the curb because we don't qualify or the money runs out, it won't matter very much who is sitting out in the cold with us. In 2030, many of us reading HuffPost will have invested in Social Security 40-60 years of our lives. There is no way that we would invest in any other security for that amount of time and accept no tangible return benefit.

So, my first message to our elected officials (and to any of us where it applies) is to give up anti-gay measures, quit using our money and time to demonize gay people and get on with the important work of building effective service delivery systems for our people who need help.

My message to the rest of us non-electeds is, we are the government. Only we can prioritize the use of our tax dollars and the use of our Elected's time and energy to achieve the goals set by us and for us. We should use our voices and votes to help our elected officials prioritize their work. They need to be working on issues that impact or will impact all Americans. And, we are all going to get old, gay and straight.

We have a lot invested in Social Security. Let's make it better rather than beating it to an untimely death.

My best read of the authorization for Social Security says that it has four key missions: to ensure strategic policy coordination and support, bring high quality (or at least adequate) social services to users, support the fight against fraud, and pursue operational excellence.

In order to achieve these missions, we need a high-performing and comprehensive delivery model based on two aspects of granting social security services -- the organization, and the execution of granting services. We need to look at how we are going to manage in 2030.

Today, our individual contributions to social services in the United States via our tax dollars are the lowest of all developed nations. If we don't want to pay more taxes, then we have to be willing to create legitimate alternatives that will guarantee our promises to vulnerable people (and all of us will one day be vulnerable). I have no doubt that there is enough collective wisdom within the Social Security administration and the available pool of brilliant economists and financial futurists within our country to derive those alternatives. I also think that we need to think about why we invest less in the needs of our citizens who are vulnerable than other nations. Maybe we are wrong to demand no new taxes.

At the same time the public sector is finding its way on these issues, those of us who provide leadership to churches and synagogues and mosques have to find our way as well. Much of our collective attention has been devoted to anti-gay rhetoric and propositions (The Mormons and Catholics and other fundamentalist groups spent over $40,000,000 in California to ensure that gay people can't marry). Some of us have been pushing back and others pushing forward. I thank God for the Unitarians and Evangelical Lutherans and Metropolitan Community Church and others who have supported lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for decades. The Catholics have an amazing history of caring for the poor. I am sad to see that history diminished by the Church's participation in anti-gay work. They started that work. They can stop it.

While we find our way to the right formulary to clean up our legislative and organizational acts as caring Americans and/or people of faith, allow me to suggest that there are some deliverables that every organization (government and churches and nonprofits providing services should prioritize:

In addition to high quality basic services (food, shelter, safety), we need to (1) address access to information and services for those who are digitally challenged or excluded, immobile and/or non-English speaking' (2) we need efficient systems that provide fast and easy access to information, Web 2.0 technologies and social media which allow service providers of all types to connect with constituents and address their problems in real time (cheaper and greener); (3) we need to increase accountability and transparency, thereby improving the public's confidence in us, and; (4) we need to leverage mobile applications to provide information to users 24/7 and wherever they are, allowing all of our service providers to step up to a sustainable environmental platform as well as drive efficiency.

If you wish, cut and paste this last section and send it to your elected officials in Washington or favorite church or nonprofit with a simple note that says, "Keep the promises we made to one another when we invested and here are a few more ideas." Sign it, Responsible and Fair American.