"Life is old there, older than the trees" -- the song tells us about West Virginia. And it's the truth. Sixteen percent of West Virginians are at least 65, second only to Florida's 17.3 percent.
So serving seniors is an important issue in our great state. It was one of my top priorities as Governor. It is one of my top priorities as Senator.
During my years as Governor, we dedicated more money to West Virginia's seniors than ever before -- more than $386 million, an 83 percent increase from the day I took office in 2005.
In my last year alone as Governor, we dedicated $67 million to senior services. My last budget provided $32 million for in-home services and nutrition, including $7.5 million for a new Lighthouse program.
One of my proudest accomplishments was to get trucks placed in all 55 of our counties to deliver hot and cold meals. In the first year, they delivered 2.6 million meals to our seniors.
We were able to do this because we set a budget that not only got our fiscal house in order but also gave priority to caring for our seniors.
I'm still fighting for our seniors as a member of the United States Senate's Special Committee on Aging. One of the things I've been working on in the Committee is finding ways to stop the financial exploitation of older Americans.
This cruelty is on the rise in our country -- and it must be stopped. Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion every year from forgery, stealing cash and other financial assets, or abusing joint accounts.
We're going to keep working in the Committee to strengthen laws and reporting requirements to protect seniors from this kind of abuse. And we're going to see to it that offenders are prosecuted. And one way to do that is legislation I have been pushing to require every state to create a Seniors Financial Bill of Rights.
Every senior should have access to information about their finances as well as financial counseling resources to make informed choices about their money and legal assistance to protect their financial rights.
I'm as committed to getting our country's fiscal house in order as I was to straightening out West Virginia's finances -- with commonsense, bipartisan solutions. But as we continue to discuss and debate the best ways to get the federal budget and national debt under control, it's important to protect programs like Social Security and Medicare.
These programs are too important to West Virginias to be privatized and put in the hands of Wall Street or turned into vouchers. Approximately one out of four West Virginians receive some kind of Social Security benefit, and about one in five are enrolled in Medicare.
It's important that we keep our promises to our seniors. We have to give them the support they need to stay healthy and independent as they age. It is not a sacrifice for us to do so -- it is a responsibility.
They made West Virginia better for us. We'll make West Virginia better for them.