GBO NEWS: Behind Social Security Commissioner Fight; New Medicare Head; Reporting Fellowships; Britney Spears and Conservatorship Fixes; PLUS Grandfamilies Raising Grandkids; On Golden Pod(casts); Learning Older, Wiser; & MORE


E-News of the Journalists Network on Generations – Our 28th Year.  

Aug. 27, 2021 — Volume 28, Number 9

EDITOR’S NOTEGBONews, e-news of the Journalists Network on Generations (JNG), publishes alerts for journalists, producers and authors covering generational issues. If you have difficulty getting to the full issue of GBONews with the links provided below, simply go to to read the latest or past editions. Send your news of important stories or books (by you and others), fellowships, awards or pertinent kvetches to GBO News Editor Paul Kleyman. []. To subscribe to at no charge, simply sending a request to Paul with your name, address, phone number and editorial affiliation or note that you freelance. For each issue, you’ll receive the table of contents in an e-mail, so just click through to the full issue at GBONews does not provide its list to other entities. 

In This IssueMEANWHILE – As a week of fire, flood, tragedy and travesty unreels from Afghanistan to Florida to the crumbly US infrastructure (shovel ready and socially needy) — nobody is getting any younger. Here’s a collage of elderhood on America’s news front.

1. THE STORYBOARD: *** “The Behind-The-Scenes Campaign For The Next Social Security Commissioner,” by Kevin Robillard, Arthur Delaney, and Dave JamiesonHuffPost

*** “How to Fix Conservatorship in America,” by Chris Farrell, PBS Next Avenue/Forbes;

*** “‘Grandfamily’ Housing Caters to Older Americans Raising Children,” by Carly Stern, New York Times

*** “Chiquita Brooks-LaSure: Innovative US Federal Health Director,” by Susan Jaffe, The Lancet;

*** “Learning on Purpose—The Older and Wiser Way,” by Jeanette Leardi, 3rd Act Magazine;

2. MOVIE TIME: *** Lives Well Lived documentary by Sky Bergman on PBS stations throughout September.

3. EYES ON THE PRIZE: *** Alicia Patterson Fellowship Deadline, Oct. 1*** Columbia U’s Age Boom Academy Reporting Fellowship Program


*** 2021 Age Boom Sessions on Loneliness Now Online.

*** ASA Legacy  Podcast Series, American Society on Aging’s 12 hourlong interviews, accessible for free, with former US Administration on Aging heads Kathy GreenleeFernando M. Torres-Gil and Jeanette C. Takamura, plus such other national leaders as Jennie Chin Hansen, former CEO of the American Geriatrics Society; Larry Curley, ED, National Indian Council on Aging; and Justice in Aging co-founder Paul Nathanson.

*** The At Home, On Air Podcast (with transcripts) with such guests as founder Marc Freedman, MacArthur “genius” and TimeSlips founder Anne Basting.


*** “How the Pandemic Affected Food Insecurity Among Older Adults,” LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and the National Council on Aging.

*** Current Awareness in Aging Research E-Clippings: Sampler of their weekly story headlines and study links from the University of Wisconsin, Madison: 

* “Biggest Social Security COLA in years coming, but it could be bigger,” by Brett Arends, MarketWatch: 

* “Congressional Democrats want to let Medicare negotiate prices with drugmakers,” by Sarah O’Brien, CNBC;

“Key mental abilities can actually improve during aging,” American Association for the Advancement of Science;

* “Democrats Hope To Beef Up Medicare With Dental, Vision And Hearing Benefits,” by Julie Rovner, US National Public Radio;

* “Cuomo exit isn’t stopping push for answers on nursing homes,” by Matt Sedensky, Associated Press;

* “Thousands of elderly residents neglected, abused yearly in North Texas, investigators say,” by Domingo Ramirez Jr.Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


Biden’s Picks for Aging Services

*** “The Behind-The-Scenes Campaign For The Next Social Security Commissioner,” by Kevin Robillard, Arthur Delaney, and Dave Jamieson, HuffPost (Aug. 18, 2021): HuffPost and other media are scrutinizing three top contenders to emerge as the Administration’s pick as Social Security Commissioner, since, as GBONews reported in JulyPresident Biden fired Donald Trump’s last-minute appointment of Andrew Saul for this crucial job.

As HuffPost explains, “The Social Security Administration is a big agency, and the commissioner position matters both for its role leading a massive workforce and for the responsibility for the tens of millions of Americans who receive monthly retirement and disability benefits. Under Saul, the agency pursued disability benefit cuts and battled with the unions representing its workers.” 

The most publicly visible candidate for the job is former Clinton Administration Secretary of  Health and Human Services and one-term congressional member, Donna Shalala (D-Fla.). Also campaigning for the job, according to the story, are Seth Harris, a former deputy labor secretary and Social Security Works President Nancy Altman.

According to HuffPost, “Altman is the clear policy expert among the leading choices: She is a protégè of past Social Security Commissioner Robert Ball, plus she’s the author of multiple books about the program and is a current member of the Social Security advisory board.” (The late Robert M. Ball was a key early developer of both Social Security and Medicare.)  

The HuffPost piece adds, “As president of Social Security Works, Altman advocated against retirement benefits cuts that President Barack Obama had supported as part of a phantom ‘Grand Bargain’ with Republicans. Obama eventually came around to Altman’s position ― one of the early signs that Democrats would once again embrace their New Deal roots.” 

However, the article says, while Altman has been endorsed for the job by the National Organization for Women and has support from an important House subcommittee chairman, “The unions whose endorsements will be key to the White House’s decision aren’t necessarily focused on policy issues, such as the annual inflation adjustment for retirement benefits.” The article cites concern by the head of the American Federation of Government Employees with reversing Saul’s Social Security staff and employee resource reductions and with future contract issues for the union.

“Harris, by contrast, has no obvious background in Social Security,” the story reveals. Although he has deep roots with the White House and leading unions, “Harris, however, has fallen out of favor with some progressives” for work he did with a “management-side law firm” and his promotion of the idea of classifying gig workers as “independent contractors” rather than employees. “Critics viewed the proposal as an unnecessary concession to the likes of Uber and Lyft,” reports HuffPost.

Another posting about the competition for Social Security Commissioner by Max Moranof the Center for Economic and Policy Research says, “Harris is one of the intellectual architects of Prop 22, the California law which protects companies . . . from having to recognize their workers as full employees entitled to the minimum wage and benefits. That’s actually a Social Security issue, too,” because firms don’t have to cover payroll taxes for contractors. The ballot initiative, which passed in 2020, was ruled unconstitutional in late August by a California Superior Court judge and will wend its way up to appeals process. Meanwhile, Harris’ role seems to have dimmed, but not doused his light for the top gig overseeing Social Security.

Also being discussed, says the story, is James Roosevelt Jr., a descendant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,who is a Democratic National Committee official. He was an assistant Social Security Administration commissioner in the Clinton administration. 

*** “Chiquita Brooks-LaSure: Innovative US Federal Health Director,”  by Susan JaffeThe Lancet (Aug. 14, 2021): Jaffe, a longtime contributor to Britain’s The Lancet medical journal and staffer for Kaiser Health News, profiled Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. The Senate confirmed her in May to lead the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), “the agency which runs CHIP, Medicaid for people on low income, the Medicare programme for older or disabled citizens, and the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She presides over an agency with a US$1 trillion budget that provides health insurance to more than 154 million people.” 

Previously at the Office of Management and Budget, Jaffe adds, “Brooks-LaSure also worked with states to expand Medicaid access and after the 9/11 attack she helped dislocated workers afford health coverage by using federal tax credits. After Barack Obama was elected President, she helped craft the ACA as a health policy staffer with the Subcommittee on Health of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means. . . . Shortly after Biden won the 2020 presidential race, she served as co- team leader for his HHS transition team.”

The story continues, “Born in Philadelphia, Brooks-LaSure grew up in a small town in New Jersey. In her Senate nomination hearing, she recalled that ‘My own hometown, a predominantly Black community where my parents still live, experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths compared to many of our surrounding communities.’  Tackling health-care inequities is one of her priorities.”

*** “‘Grandfamily’ Housing Caters to Older Americans Raising Children,” by Carly SternNew York Times (Aug. 24, 2021): Tag: “Intergenerational communities are sprouting up as the need grows for homes that suit aging adults and their young charges.” 

Stern opens with the story of Jackie Lynn, 67, who said, “They needed me,” about her niece’s children when she bore the fifth one after using heroin during her pregnancy. Lynn moved to Oregon to provide their care in 2009. Eventually, Stern writes, “After the strain of a long commute and tight finances, she moved with them into Bridge Meadows Apartment Homes in Portland.” 

The Bridge Meadows model development, Stern says, is “a multigenerational housing community for older adults with low incomes, adoptive families or ‘grandfamilies’ — with a grandparent, adult family member or friend raising a child — like hers. Bridge Meadows, in North Portland, had nine townhouses available for eligible families and 27 apartments for single, older adults. Besides affordable rent, Bridge Meadows would offer social services, like mental health specialists.”

Stern continues, “More older Americans are finding a haven in the ‘grandfamily housing’ communities sprouting nationwide. Roughly 2.7 million children are being raised in grandfamilies, and programs like Bridge Meadows aim to provide stable housing. Additionally, such communities can help older adults regain their footing as they contend with unforeseen caregiving expenses, skyrocketing housing costs and a lack of homes that are accessible for older or disabled people. . . . There are at least 19 grandfamily housing programs with on-site services across the United States, financed by a mix of public and private funding, according to Generations United, [] a nonprofit focused on intergenerational collaboration.” 

*** “How to Fix Conservatorship in America,” by Chris Farrell, PBS Next Avenue(July 26) / Forbes with text and 9-min audio version (Aug. 6): Tag: “We can thank Britney Spears for propelling efforts to reform the broken conservatorship system.” Farrell writes, “Finally — thanks to the sad story of the 39-year-old pop star, efforts are underway to tackle the longstanding problems with conservatorships and guardianships across the country, generally controlling lives of older adults deemed incapable to manage their affairs.”

Finally, indeed. GBONews’ editor was hardly surprised in recent weeks that the Spears celebrity publicity might prod legislators to take up the national scandal of conservatorships (called guardianships in some states). Courts too often sign off on papers that not infrequently have robbed seniors of their property and civil rights. Is it any wonder that it took the financial abuse of a young pop star to get action going? Still, having some official activity come about for any reason may well help many older Americans. 

Farrell reports, “The public policy concern is particularly acute with the aging of the population, since America’s oldest elders may be especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation when they can no longer handle their finances or their medical issues. . . . (In general, a legal guardian has the power to make a wide range of personal and medical decisions while conservatorship is often limited to financial matters.) … The experience of Britney Spears with her 13-year conservatorship has disturbed Congressional lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle.”

He explains, “That bill would: give people under guardianship the right to ask that a court-appointed private guardian be replaced with a public guardian; assign an independent caseworker to those in conservatorship or guardianship and mandate states to update their databases on how many people are in conservatorship. Records about conservatorship are pretty scarce.” 

Furthermore, Farrell says, “Among the conservatorship reform ideas circulating are national standards for conservators; improved training of guardians; better legal representation for those unable to afford their own counsel; constant monitoring of conservatorships so rights of people being protected can be restored quickly when necessary and better data collection. … Taken altogether, changes like these require more money and, equally important, greater attention paid to the flawed system, where some conservators take advantage of people they’re supposed to be assisting and even steal from them.”

*** “Learning on Purpose—The Older and Wiser Way,”  by Jeanette Leardi3rd Act Magazine (Fall 2021): Tag: “Being back in a classroom can help you reach your goals—if you take advantage of your older-brain skills.” In this essay, Leardi, who blogs on aging and ageism from her base in Portland, Ore., offers An Optimal-Learning Checklist” for people in later life wishing to retrain for new careers.”

Leardi recounts that at age 56 in 2008, after three-decade career in publishing for such media as Newsweek, Life, People and Sesame Street, mainly writing educational materials for children, “I decided to pursue an encore career as a community educator to older adults. So I entered a college graduate-level gerontology program and took my place as a student.”

She asked herself, “After such a long absence from a university setting, I was worried: Would my older brain be able to tap into those long-lost study habits of researching, paper-writing, memorizing, and test-taking? Could I hold my own among classmates 30 years my junior? Or would stereotypical generational expectations get in the way of us accepting one another as peers?”

Leardi found, “My back-to-school experience taught me two important lessons about us older students: 1) We have a greater stockpile of knowledge from which to draw than our decades-younger selves had; and 2) We require specifically tailored learning approaches because our brains have changed.” She recommends nine factors older learners should consider in choosing a workshop or course. 


*** Lives Well Lived, the documentary by Sky Bergman (winner of eight film festival awards) will air on local PBS stations throughout September. Bergman, a professor of photography and video at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, told GBONews that she hadn’t worked with video until she decided to record her grandmother, Evelyn Ricciuti, at age 103. We see her exercising at a gym and cooking “the best lasagna you’ve ever tasted.”

Sky, who took her childhood nickname because of her sky-blue eyes, followed her aproned grandmother as she stirred her sauce. Eventually, Sky asked for any words of wisdom. The moment simmered for her. She would interview 40 people from ages 75 to 103, with the essential inquiry: What is a life well-lived?” 

Upbeat as the resulting feature is, Bergman’s film grounds the buoyancy of their replies in her subjects’ many personalities and journeys, some grave tales of survival from the trials of Hitler’s Nazis, Stalin’s terrors, or on US soil, Japanese internment, or hardship in the struggle for civil rights. 

With so much dismay in the world today and aspirational talk of hopes against disasters, Lives Well Lived offers glimpses of honest inspiration from so many who have persevered brightly, but also with a knowing perspective on what living is all about. As Barbara Dreyfuss puts it at age 91, “Life plays with you, doesn’t it? You have to take with it, and you have to better it.”

Go to PBS for details about the showings. PBS will also stream the full film here from Sept. 1-28. Find air dates on the system’s area affiliates [], or check your local listings. 

* Next up for Bergman – Edible Ancestry: It was not only with the tang of her grandmother’s lasagna in the air, but also with a family connection to Japan, Bergman is returning her crew to the kitchen. She told GBONews, “My concept for the new film is evolving as this: Our country is made up of immigrants. What are the traditions that are passed down from one generation to another through food. I love the idea of the generations connecting and the wisdom and knowledge being passed along, as well as the story of what traditions we hold onto as immigrants to this country.” (Think of NPR’s Kitchen Sisters with video.) 

In fact, Bergman started last year with a delectable sample, her short film MochitsukiCelebrating the Japanese New Year, tells of the Eto family’s annual gathering in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to make the sweet, pounded rice confection, Mochi.

Reporters can contact Bergman, who also formerly chaired Cal Poly’s Art & Design Department, at; phone (805) 215.8684. 


*** Alicia Patterson Fellowship Deadline, Oct. 1: Check their website for both the Patterson Fellowship and the separate Cissy Patterson Fellowship for Science and Environmental Writers. This is either a full-time, yearlong fellowship that comes with a $40,000 stipend for 12 months, or a $20,00 project for six months. Both staff and freelance journalists, including photographers, and who must be US citizens, may apply. They select about a half-dozen reporters per year. Address questions to

*** Columbia U’s Age Boom Academy Reporting Fellowship Program is inviting GBONews readers to sign up to receive notices for information on applying for their 2022 season. The deadlines won’t be announced for a while, but dropping a quick email to them  now will ensure that you won’t miss the chance to apply. Age Boom, one of the earliest reporting fellowships on aging, is a joint program of the Columbia School of Journalism and the university’s Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center. 

The Age Boom program’s lead, Caitlin Hawke, let us know that the 2022 program focus “will be on the topic of our longer lives and the caregiving infrastructure in America.” To receive information on how to apply to the 2022 press training once the call for applicants is announced later this year. Email your request to get notices about the 2022 Age Boom details and deadline to Hawke at Just say you saw it in GBONews and would like to be added to the list.

As for Age Boom’s sterling program quality, read on . . . .


Does the thought of another podcast make you think of that “Just Say No” anti-drug spot with the frying egg, except now it’s, “This is your brain on pods” all asizzle? Still, reporters in search of the right expert to quote, or a solid, up-to-date story source may make listening to a podcast for a few minutes well worth tuning in. Here are recent ones generations-beat reporters may find worth checking out.

*** The 2021 Age Boom Academy Sessions Are Now Streaming: To get a sense of the quality of their fellowship program through Columbia University’s Age Boom Academy, Caitlin Hawke let us know that the four Zoom segments they recorded last spring (each ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 hours) are now available for one and all. Each includes talks by major national figures in health and aging. The 2021 edition was on the theme, “Combating Loneliness in Aging.” 

Sessions included expert sources whom reporters may wish to tap for current or later stories. For instance, the program on the underlying causes of elder isolation include a keynote address titled, “The Psychosocial Factors at the Root of Loneliness, by Louise Hawkley, PhDsenior research scientist at the Associated Press-affiliated NORC investigative center at the University of Chicago. She was then joined in a discussion on “The Future of Loneliness” by Linda P. Fried, MD, dean of the Butler Center, and Yale’s psychologist Becca Levy, PHD, the widely cited researcher on the impact of negative attitudes about old age on the health and life expectancy of seniors.

All sessions were moderated by such leading generations-beat journalists as Kerry Hannon (MarketWatch, NY Times), Rodney Brooks (USA Today, US News & World Report) and Carol Hymowitz (Bloomberg, Stanford Center on Longevity). Age Boom Co-director Bruce Shapiro, who heads Columbia’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, also moderated a brainstorming discussion about reporting on solutions to loneliness. The program included Mikhael Simmonds, Multimedia Lead of the ​Solutions Journalism Network. 

*** ASA Legacy Series”: Currently underway is the American Society on Aging’s (ASA) 12 hourlong interviews, accessible for free, with some of the leading figures in aging during the past half century. Each is conducted by mature-market innovator and author Ken Dychtwald. Three of those interviewed ran the US Administration on Aging as US Assistant Secretary for Aging. Under President Barack ObamaKathy Greenlee headed the program from 2009-2017, as the first openly LGBTQ person to oversee the office. A leading consultant in aging, she is now chair-elect of the National Council on Aging. Appointed by President Bill Clinton were, Fernando M. Torres-Gil (1993-96), currently director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging and an Adjunct Professor of Gerontology at USC, and Jeanette C. Takamura, dean emerita of Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

These podcasts represent the diversity Pantheon in the field of gerontology. Others in the ASA series are Percil Stanford, founder of San Diego State University’s Center on Aging and AARP’s former Senior VP for Diversity and Inclusion; Paul Nathanson, founder of  Justice in Aging (formerly the National Senior Citizens law Center), a founding member of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging, and an early leader of the Gray Panthers; and Imani Woody, founding director and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc., a nonprofit serving LGBTQ/SGL elders experiencing housing insecurity and isolation. 

Also in ASA’s Legacy Series are Linda P. Fried, dean of Columbia University’s Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center and co-chair of the National Academy of Medicine’s 2019–2022 Global Commission on a Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity, and Larry Curley, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, is executive director of the National Indian Council on Aging. Another is Jennie Chin Hansen, now chair of The SCAN Foundation and a former CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, who headed San Francisco’s On Lok, where she helped develop the national Program of All Inclusive Care to the Elderly (PACE) into Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Rounding out the current interviews are Terry Fulmer, president of The John A. Hartford Foundation, who was the first nurse to serve as president of the Gerontological Society of America; Marc Freedman, groundbreaking author and CEO and president of; and 

John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and former chairman and CEO of Aetna, Inc, who currently leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society. 

ASA’s Legacy Series brings to mind many other thought leaders whose personal experiences and perspectives on our aging future would be so valuable. So few journalists even realize that the study of human aging as a professional, academic and public policy focus really only gained traction in the mid-20th century. The stories and contributions of so many elders of the longevity tribe should be interviewed, perhaps for an ongoing Smithsonian-style oral history project.

Another I can think of offhand would be – adding a bipartisan note of diversity to the mix — Josefina G. Carbonell, the Cuban-born American Assistant Secretary for Aging appointed by President George W. Bush (2001-2008). And how about Gloria Cavanaugh, who led the transformation of the Western Gerontological Society into the American Society on Aging in 1985.

*** The At Home, On Air Podcast (with transcripts) new provides online access to the excellent series of talks previously available only locally in San Francisco. A program of the nonprofit At Home With Growing Older (AHWGO), the initial programs are discussions with author and founder Marc FreedmanShireen McSpadden, who heads the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services and Jarmin Yen of the UCSF Institute for Health and Aging; and MacArthur “genius” and TimeSlips founder Anne Basting, author of Creative Care, along with University of Pennsylvania geriatrician Jason Karlawish, MD, author of The Problem of Alzheimer’s: How Science, Culture, and Politics Turned a Rare Disease Into a Crisis and What We Can Do About It (St. Martin’s Press, 2021).

AHWGO ED Susie Stadler emails that the twice-monthly series is now accessible on Spotify, SoundCloud, TuneIn and Stitcher, with  Apple and Google Podcasts coming soon.


*** “How the Pandemic Affected Food Insecurity Among Older Adults,” (Aug. 19, 2021): “The economic downturn and a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic have impacted everyone’s life. But a new study by researchers at the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) shows that the rising rate of food insecurity in the United States could impact older, poorer adults and their families for years to come.” 

The center published two issue briefs on “the long-lasting effects of pandemic-related food insecurity among older adults, especially older women and people of color.” They are: 

Their release states, “Research suggests that enhancements to SNAP were likely effective in temporarily decreasing pandemic-induced food insecurity among vulnerable older adults. However, the increased SNAP benefits provided by the American Rescue Plan must be made permanent and must reflect increased food costs. 

*** Current Awareness in Aging Research E-Clippings: One of our continuing sources for international, US and state news links, plus important recent reports on aging, can be in your email stack every week. To get on the CAAR list at no cost, drop a request to the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Charlie Fiss, Senior Special Librarian,  Director, Data and Information Services Center — Email: Rather than my tell you why, I’ll show you just a sampling of links from their last posting:

*** “Biggest Social Security COLA in years coming, but it could be bigger,”  by Brett Arends, MarketWatch (Aug. 17, 2021): Note: This article is a commentary. 

*** “Congressional Democrats want to let Medicare negotiate prices with drugmakers. Here’s what that could mean for the cost of coverage,” by Sarah O’BrienCNBC, (Aug. 19, 2021).

*** “Key mental abilities can actually improve during aging,”  (Eurekalert — American Association for the Advancement of Science: (Aug. 19, 2021).

*** “Democrats Hope To Beef Up Medicare With Dental, Vision And Hearing Benefits,” by Julie RovnerUS National Public Radio (Aug. 9, 2021).

*** “Cuomo exit isn’t stopping push for answers on nursing homes,”  by Matt Sedensky, Associated Press (Aug, 12, 2021).

*** “Thousands of elderly residents neglected, abused yearly in North Texas, investigators say,” by Domingo Ramirez Jr.Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Aug. 10, 2021).

The Journalists Network on Generations (JNG), founded in 1993, publishes Generations Beat Online News ( JNG provides information and networking opportunities for journalists covering generational issues, but not those representing services, products or lobbying agendas. Copyright 2021 JNG. For more information contact GBO Editor Paul Kleyman. 

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