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Seniors United Now is the voice of action

If you’re 65 or older in this province then there’s a kind of union-cum-advocacy group that is out there working to make your life easier, whether you know about it or not.

“We are a voice for the seniors in Alberta,” explained Dick Tansey, the vice president of Seniors United Now, also known as SUN. “That is to say that an individual would not have the wherewithal or the clout at all to get things done.”

Rising out of the Klein-era cutbacks to seniors groups, the non-partisan not-for-profit group originally formed to push for greater seniors’ benefits. It hasn’t stopped but it also offers every senior the opportunity to express concerns or complaints about a system that’s meant to work for them, but often works against.

It doesn’t just offer a kind ear to seniors who want to talk about health care, home care, legislation, mobility and transportation, or a host of other age-related issues, it takes these problems seriously and then sets about to fix them for you and for all.

SUN now has 4,500 members but there are more than 450,000 seniors in the province. Alberta Health Services projects there will be twice that number by 2031. So every time SUN logs a victory for one person it becomes a triumph for many, many more, Tansey said.

One of the group’s most recent and greatest success stories was the provincial government’s approval of the deferred property tax program. Senior homeowners can now defer all or part of their property taxes through a low-interest home equity loan. They can only qualify, however, if they have a minimum of 25 per cent equity in the home and it is the senior’s primary residence. The loans are repaid when the home is sold or sooner if the senior chooses.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems though. Tansey said that getting the property tax deferral opened another can of worms when the government turned around and took away the Education Property Tax Assistance for Seniors program, a small amount of rebate money that benefited all eligible senior homeowners with the year-to-year increases in the education portion of their property taxes. The program is set to be discontinued at the end of 2013, but not if SUN can help it.

“That’s one of the things that we want to challenge them on because we don’t think they’re connected. It’s unfair to those people, especially to those seniors that do not want to take advantage of the property tax deferment. They lose the other anyway, and that’s not right,” he said.

Home care is another of SUN’s hot topics, he added, because the government is looking at reducing the number of home-care agencies from 72 to 13.

“We are speaking out against that. We don’t believe that’s in the best interest of the public at all, particularly seniors, more specifically seniors that are in the residences. Because of our group and others speaking out, they’ve already made some changes. That’s the positive side.”

Tansey said he’s got a long laundry list of items that SUN is actively working on, all to make Alberta a better province for seniors. The organization is one of two that were recently invited to participate in the accommodations standards review for the province. Tansey said this proves that SUN clearly has the clout and the respect to get things done.

The toughest part of getting the organization to grow is public awareness, he said, as so many people still don’t know about SUN or the work that it does.

“We have an education problem. We simply have to get our name out to the communities. That is happening. Our name is getting out there but not everybody on the street knows who we are,” Tansey said.

There are three chapters in and around Edmonton. The St. Albert chapter meets next at the St. Albert Legion on Taché Street on Monday, Sept. 23. The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. Contact Tansey at 780-907-7618 for more information.

Membership fees are $15 per person or $25 per couple. Lifetime memberships are also available at $150 per person or $250 per couple.

For more information about SUN, call 780-449-1816 or visit www.seniorsunitednow.com. Its head office is located in Sherwood Park.

The Gazette continues its series on issues for older citizens.

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.