U.S. Sen. Bob Casey visited Altoona on Tuesday to ask people how the federal government can help those caught in the middle - the so-called "sandwich generation."
Casey said he considers himself a member of the sandwich generation - Americans in their 40s and 50s sandwiched between raising children and being caretakers for elderly parents.
Casey scrawled some notes as three middle-class panel members related their stories of juggling schedules, making sacrificial acts of love for their children and parents and dealing with slow bureaucratic processes of eligibility for federally funded programs for the elderly.
Amy McNeal, a social worker with Blair Senior Services, is a mother of a 2-year-old son and also took in her elderly aunt and uncle who raised her as a child.
"They took care of me, so I take care of them," she said. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Despite efforts by her and her husband to arrange work schedules so that one of them would be home at all times, her aunt needed added support.
It took six months for McNeal's aunt to be declared eligible for a program through Blair Senior Services that provides aid in her own home as an alternative to moving to a nursing home.
Another panel member, Blair Senior Services President Steve Williamson, said McNeal wasn't the only one waiting too long for loved ones' program eligibility to be confirmed.
"Six months of her life is unbearable for these services (to arrive)," he said.
"The government puts a lot of money into these programs, and they are interested in the outcomes," he said. "So we get hit with layers of stuff. Some layers are good, preventing fraud. Other layers are just too much bureaucracy."
After Blair Senior Services assesses an elderly person for eligibility for a home support program, the assessment has to go through a county office and other channels.
"It results in a six-month wait for services needed yesterday," McNeal said.
A third panel member, Dennis Wisor, also employed by Blair Senior Services, related similar time-frame problems in navigating his mother through the nation's Affordable Care Act health care system in March.
The hearing was at Penn State Altoona. In attendance were Patrick Schurr, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr.'s executive assistant; Penn State Altoona Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry; County Commissioner Ted Beam; and state Rep. John McGinnis, member of the House Aging and Older Adult Services committee.
"The topic here today was sandwich generation, but the real issue is addressing the needs of the elderly," McGinnis said.
And those needs are complex.
"There's elderly abuse (within families). Elderly adults' financial risk is evolving. There are an assortment of difficult issues," he said. "The law seems to be inflexible at times, and we don't have the opportunity to fix the problem in a timely manner. But we have to keep at it."
Casey was thankful for the testimony of the panel members.
"When you pass a law, you don't know how it's being implemented," he said. On the topic of helping the so-called sandwich generation, he said: "We've got a lot more work to do."
Costs of college tuition, health care and child care have increased, while minimum wage has not kept up to pace, which has strained many adults who are caretakers for their children and elderly parents.
Casey said he is working on a bill focused on better organizing volunteer assistance for elderly adults.