Senior Federation to shut down
By Warren Wolfe
Mpls Star Tribune
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Leaders of a pioneering advocacy group that initiated bus trips
to Canada for
cheaper medications, then the nation's first nonprofit website
for those drugs, voted Monday to dissolve.
"This is a terrible day," said Barbara Kaufman, 75, of Plymouth, chairwoman of the
board of directors of the Minnesota Senior Federation. "I never
expected to preside over our funeral, but the money's just not
there to continue."
The federation is about $100,000 in debt and on target to raise
only about $600,000 of its 2009 budget of $1.1 million, said
Executive Director Ansley (Lee) Johnson. Last year's budget was
Already trimmed from its peak of about 20 employees, the group
laid off seven staff members last month, including Johnson, who
continues as a volunteer. It now has one full-time and three
"The bad economy dried up some of our traditional funding,"
including $80,000 in sponsorships from Medica, Metropolitan
Health Plan and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Kaufman
"But on top of that, we're not a nation of joiners the way we
used to be,'' she said. "The 'young old' -- the baby boomers --
just don't join organizations the way the 'older old' do."
The group's membership has fallen to 9,000 from more than 40,000
at its peak in the 1980s.
Members will receive ballots by the end of next week asking them
to approve dissolution. If approved by the end of June, as
expected, the 36-year-old group will cease operations almost
"I wish we could have some meeting for everybody so they could
have a chance to express their sadness and anger about this,"
Kaufman said. "But we just don't have the money."
A feisty powerhouse
The federation was formed in 1973, an amalgam of senior clubs
and a new metropolitan activist group targeting property taxes
and other issues facing seniors trying to cope with rampant
inflation. It quickly became a national model for similar state
The feisty, sometimes pugnacious organization has been a power
at the Legislature. Until recent years, its grass-roots lobbying
efforts dwarfed those of the giant AARP, which has more than
500,000 Minnesota members.
"This is really sad news," said Hubert (Skip) Humphrey III,
former president of AARP Minnesota and now a member of its
national board. "The federation has been a very effective,
powerful grass-roots organization. Policy makers pay attention
because the federation has always been willing to stick its neck
out, to say what need to be said."
The federation pioneered advocacy for pension rights, tax and
health care reform and other issues, and sued the federal
government over a Medicare payment system that rewards high-cost
states such as Florida
It also publishes a resource guide for caregivers of older
people and the only comprehensive guide to health insurance
choices for Minnesota retirees.
The federation also operates a health care information center
and Senior Partners Care, a program in which about 2,700 low-
and moderate-income people on Medicare get care from doctors and
hospitals who agree to take Medicare with no co-pays or
deductibles. "I'm fairly hopeful that we'll find some partners
to take over that and some of our other key programs," Kaufman
A drop in support
The federation's membership began dropping in the mid-1990s. It
got a temporary bump from all 50 states in 2003 when it started
a website helping members buy drugs from Canadian pharmacies at
prices often half of those in the United States.
It also collected more than $100,000 in fees from those
transactions. The program quickly was copied by other groups,
including the state of Minnesota.
"The federation always did well when it acted on a critical need
of older people -- especially health care issues," said Peter
Wyckoff, who helped start the organization as a young
Presbyterian minster and community organizer and who remained
its executive director until he retired last year.
"Like most nonprofits, the federation always had a hand-to-mouth
existence ... " he said Monday. "When Medicare added a drug
benefit in 2006, that cut into the Canadian sales, and
"The issues haven't changed all that much from the beginning --
property taxes, nursing homes and prescription drugs," he said.
"I guess the federation wasn't able in the past couple of years
to latch onto the issues in a way that galvanized members."
Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253
Federation to shut down