Focus on Financial Wellbeing
It is my honor to now chair the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Ava Frisinger for her extensive contributions, and the multiple terms she served as Chair of the Advisory Council.
I was invited to join the Advisory Council several years ago because of my finance background. I have been a Certified Public Accountant for the past four decades and have worked almost as long on Congressional audits, bank internal audits, and local government financial management. As Advisory Council chair, I hope to bring more attention to issues related to financial self-sufficiency at every stage of life.
I like to go back to basics. Rather than discuss complex financial planning or budgeting, I like to explain financial principles in simple language. For instance, budgeting is important. But what is budgeting? It’s basically personal planning. I’ve seen too many people with dreamy eyes, who think tomorrow will be better, without a clear plan on how to get there. No one goes from high school to CEO in a single bound. It’s a step-by-step process.
A few years ago, Dr. Jim deMaine, a retired pulmonary and critical care physician, spoke to our Advisory Council about end-of-life planning. I took his words to heart. Recently, I completed five basic documents—a will, advance directives for health care, power of attorney for health care decisions, general power of attorney for finances, and final wishes. If every adult would do the same, individuals and families would be better off.
Recently, Dr. deMaine presented on an Age Friendly Seattle Close to Home program, which was video-recorded (listen here). Since I first heard him speak, he has also written a book (“Facing Death: Finding Dignity, Hope and Healing at the End”) and started a blog. Dr. deMaine does an excellent job of breaking down end-of-life considerations into steps that are easy to understand, and we should all follow his footsteps. And please understand—the term “end of life” has to do with the last third of your life, not just your final days.
For me, healthy aging is like a three-legged chair—we need physical health, mental capacity, and financial wellbeing to live well. You can be bright, healthy, and active, but if you don’t have enough money, you can’t live well. You can have the nicest car, but if you don’t have money for gas, you can’t drive it.
There are aging issues we need to talk about—like COVID and caregiving—but financial planning is also important at every age.
Senior employment is another issue of interest to me—both for personal finance and for social interaction. I know there are employment opportunities for lower-income people age 55+ remote available through the National Asian Pacific Council on Aging (NAPCA). As recently as December 10, when three NAPCA staff presented during an Age Friendly Seattle Close to Home show, their Senior Community Service Employment Program offered employment while the COVID quarantine is in place—work performed remotely for safety, of course.
I’m also looking at resources available to people who run into financial difficulty. Medicaid is one option but it’s very strict—you cannot have much of anything. I worry about people who are having trouble making ends meet but still have too much income to qualify for Medicaid. Fortunately, Aging and Disability Services participates in a Medicaid Transformation program that provides caregiver support and certain types of in-home services to people who fall into this category. To access services, contact Community Living Connections.
I serve on six boards and commissions right now. I’ve focused on financial sustainability in most of the boards I work on. Most board members are well-meaning and committed activists and advocates who help drive the organization’s mission. In addition, board members can help make sure the organization is on firm financial ground—not only for the services they provide but sufficient funding for research, administrative expenses, and advocacy work. I’ve had some success in helping organizations build that base.
I’m a supportive logistics person behind the scenes. But I like to do my part, and I believe in what I’m doing. I also enjoy taking on a leadership role.
The last board I chaired was at Salal Credit Union (formerly Group Health Credit Union). The credit union is state-licensed, so it can do some things the federal credit unions cannot do. Salal opens accounts, deposits funds, and makes loans for people of color, immigrants, single parents who work in low-paying jobs, and certain types of small businesses—like cannabis shops—that cannot get services at federally chartered financial institutions. I believe in what they are doing.
Our Advisory Council is a group of experienced, well-educated folk who care deeply and can communicate their point of view. I am very pleased to be associated with them. This year, I would like to involve more Advisory Council and community members in direct advocacy.
Olympia is only an hour away but distance can be a barrier. This year, there’s no reason to visit Olympia because nearly all legislative business will take place online. More people can participate.
I hope that every Advisory Council member will reach out to their elected representatives in Olympia, and reach out to community contacts to do the same. We need to build relationships with new people in the state legislature and strengthen relationships with those we already know.
There are also a lot of changes in the nonprofit sector. We need to bring everyone “into the fold” so we can share ideas and speak with the same voice.
“Older people”—we’re a growing population. With demographic changes, it’s important to look at Social Security and other programs we depend upon for healthy aging. I don’t think that Social Security will go away, but the number of younger people supporting each older person is down to about 2.7. We need the political will to raise or eliminate the cap on Social Security contributions—the easiest way to make the program sustainable for generations to come. And we need to train younger people to take over our work. Everyone—if they’re lucky—will become an old person someday.
I was asked to include some personal information, so you would get to know me. I like to travel and look forward to the end of the coronavirus so we can travel again. I’m a history buff. I love to travel and learn the history of the places I go. I like comparative history. Often, I look back at important people in the late 1800s and early 20th century—people like U.S. President Abraham Lincoln; Queen Victoria, who ruled Britannia for 63 years; and Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled China for 47 years. Good and bad, we have much to learn from history.
I grew up in Des Moines, Washington. I took one year of Chinese at the University of Washington—aced the class but couldn’t speak a word of it. And then I met my future wife. I went to her house for dinner and her father gave me incentive to learn—speak Chinese or you don’t eat. They laughed at me a lot but, within a couple years, I became quite fluent. I can also read Chinese fluently, thanks to my grandfather, who taught me to read the pictograms.
And finally, I was asked what advice I would give now to my younger self, and this is it: Work hard and treat people well. Show sympathy and care for other people. Bargain, but don’t push for the last penny—leave some room, the other people need to live, too. I think that’s good advice for everyone.
Contributor Dick Woo was elected chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services in December 2020, replacing Ava Frisinger, who did not seek a fourth term. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail (email@example.com) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.