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Straight Talk for Seniors®: The Senior Community Service Employment Program

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As policymakers talk about more jobs for American workers, there is only one program that exclusively provides job training and placement to low-income older Americans.

But the 52-year-old program is slated for elimination in the Administration’s FY18 budget.

The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) was launched in 1965 to help disadvantaged older adults gain the skills and confidence they need to reenter the workforce. At the same time, SCSEP provides public and nonprofit agencies with older workers who can support their mission.

SCSEP helps seniors find work

For millions of low-income older adults, working is not a choice but a financial necessity. But it can be difficult to find a job if your skills need updating or you don’t have the connections you used to have.

SCSEP serves some of our most vulnerable seniors. To qualify, an older adult must be aged 55+, unemployed, and living on a family income of no more than 125% of the federal poverty level—$15,075 per year for an individual or $20,300 per year for a couple.

The typical SCSEP participant is a woman aged 65+ who is a minority, has just a few years of college, and lives in a rural area. About 20% have a disability, and 13% are veterans or their spouses.

For these individuals, SCSEP can be a path back to economic security and dignity.

Patti Miller is a SCSEP success storyPatti Miller is one example. At 58, she found herself with no home, just $10 in her pocket, and desperate for a job. She had lost her husband to cancer, and her job and savings to the 2008 financial crash. SCSEP gave her the training and support she needed to land a paid job at a local Head Start program.

Before SCSEP, “I applied for all types of positions, but everyone said I was overqualified or they would look at my age and say no,” she explained. “The biggest thing SCSEP did for me was help me get this job … I don’t think I’d be alive today without it.”

In FY15, SCSEP trained more than 65,000 older adults like Patti. And like her, more than half moved into a paid job.

SCSEP helps local organizations find workers

SCSEP helps local public and nonprofit organizations, too. Participants get their training at more than 2,000 organizations like libraries, schools, senior centers, and housing agencies. In FY15, SCSEP participants provided these agencies with more than 34 million staff hours. The dollar value of those hours is $820 million—more than twice what SCSEP receives in federal funding.

Many of these organizations are facing funding cuts of their own, which makes SCSEP even more valuable to them.

Without SCSEP, “our organization would be unable to provide critical services,” says Devon Christianson, of the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Brown County in Green Bay, WI. “Our Senior Aids perform 10,400 hours of service to our older adult customers. If we had to replace them with paid staff, it would cost $96,200 a year. We are unable to do our programs without them!”

An independent survey of SCSEP employment sites by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 77% relied on participants to provide services to the community.

SCSEP has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, but it also has experienced drastic funding cuts and now is slated for elimination. The debate now turns to Congress as it prepares its budget for FY18.

Have you or someone you know participated in SCSEP? If so, please share your experience in the comments section below!

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Howard Bedlin

About Howard Bedlin

Howard Bedlin is NCOA's Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. He is responsible for all of NCOA’s federal and state legislative advocacy efforts on issues and programs of concern to older adults, which include the Older Americans Act, Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care, income security, and community services programs.