State-Based Master Plans for Aging: Who Cares and Why?

It sounds like something out of a politician’s stump speech: “A Master Plan for Aging.” But while people holding political office — especially governors — are important to a master plan’s success, it appears that foundations are playing a strategic role in cultivating public interest and resources on aging. 

In a recent edition of Inside Philanthropy, the dynamic was described like this: “In a lot of ways, philanthropy is driving these master plans,” said Lindsay Goldman, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging. “A lot of our members have invested in age-friendly communities, and now they’re interested in master plans as a sustainable strategy for those communities and to bring added resources to the field of aging.”

What Is It?

As the SCAN Foundation — an independent public charity devoted to transforming care for older adults in ways that preserve dignity and encourage independence — puts it, A Master Plan for Aging is a blueprint that:

  1. Includes planning for 10 or more years
  2. Is often led by a governor with other executive and legislative leaders; and
  3. Is developed to guide the restructuring of state and local policy, programs, and funding toward aging well in the community.”

Philanthropic funders join forces to court a governor or legislator in the given state, who becomes a champion for the plan. The group also positions a point person on aging within the state, and motivates other agencies — e.g., parks departments, local libraries, etc. — to jump on the bandwagon. The goal is to get all the agencies to recognize that aging isn’t just some small “office on aging” type department off to the side; rather, it’s a vital issue that everyone has a stake in. Once all these agencies are on board, they work to direct government dollars to the cause. It’s a high-level, multi-year strategy, but the payoff is huge.

Grassroots Work, Philanthropic Funding

According to Inside Philanthropy, more than a dozen states currently are at some stage of developing or implementing their own master plans for aging. But the most successful of these, to date, is in California. Although the state started working on its master plan in 2019, the work behind the scenes to get a Master Plan on Aging on the state agenda really began a year earlier. During California’s gubernatorial election in 2018, the SCAN Foundation and West Health (a family of nonprofit organizations dedicated to older adult health issues) persuaded candidates to pledge to focus on aging as part of their time in office. After Gov. Gavin Newsom began his term in 2019, he announced his commitment to a Master Plan for Aging, and eight philanthropic funders kicked in substantial monies to begin the process.

California’s plan was released in 2021, containing five goals and 23 strategies, and currently is being implemented. Among California’s goals:

  • keeping older adults in their homes
  • improving economic security, and
  • creating some 1 million well paid caregiver jobs.

California’s plan has been so successful that, with philanthropic funding, a two-year learning collaborative has been created to share the knowledge with other states. So far, 10 states are participating, with 10 more states slated to join the collaborative in spring of this year.

More To It Than Meets The Eye

The collaboration between state agencies formerly operating mostly in silos means that when other crises develop, the structure is in place for a swift response. For example, during COVID, California’s agencies were able to work together to support older adults, thanks to the state’s ability to convene stakeholders around the master plan. 

But perhaps the longest-lasting benefit is in perception. As the Reframing Aging Initiative — an advocacy effort to counteract ageism — learned in its studies, aging often is something perceived as something negative and that people want to ignore or stick in a corner, out of sight. One significant upside to states implementing master plans for aging is that the issues of older adults are elevated in the public consciousness, which helps residents understand that, again, it is about all of us.

Check on the status of a Master Plan on Aging in your state. Ask questions about how broadly discussions are happening. More conversations, more coordination, and we’ll see ways to ensure continuity of critical supports for an aging population. If we are lucky — live long, engaged lives — each of us will enjoy the benefits of these plans.

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  1. Richard Karg on January 18, 2023 at 9:57 am

    Interesting article, as usual. I am wondering if you have a list of states that are now working on Master Plans with links to their website. Thank you.

  2. Sara Jean Lindholm on January 18, 2023 at 10:26 am

    Well said….Illinois is spearheading support among the state legislature, led by Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, with funding from the Retirement Research Foundation and Chicago Community Trust.

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