Time to be educated on senior issues with primary just weeks away

Published in RINewsToday on August 22, 2022

On Aug. 17, just twenty-eight days before Rhode Island’s Sept. 13th Primary Election, at the Warwick-based Pilgrim Senior Center, Gov. Dan McKee joined Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, other elected leaders and advocates to highlight recently passed legislative and budget initiatives that supported  Rhode Island’s senior population. The Governor ceremonially signed legislation passed this legislative session. 

Among those investments is $4 million in the FY 23 state budget to increase the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit available to qualifying seniors and adults with disabilities, raising the maximum credit received to $600 and increasing the income threshold for eligibility to $ 35,000.  This property tax credit program provides relief to eligible seniors and adults with disabilities who own or rent their homes. The budget also increases the amount of pension income that is exempt from state taxation for all retirees from the first $15,000 to the first $20,000.

Whether it’s tax relief, housing, food security, or utilities, our Administration is looking at these issues through the lens of ensuring our seniors are able to not just live in the Ocean State, but that they are also able to thrive here,” stated the McKee at the event, a continuation of his #RIMomentum Tour. “I am proud to deliver a budget and sign several pieces of legislation that support and protect our seniors, and I thank the sponsors and advocates who helped see them across the finish line,” he said.

“Both as chair of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, and as a granddaughter whose family cares for a senior, I am dedicated to ensuring that every Rhode Islander has the support they need to live full, rich, and long lives. The budget we have passed this year, along with the bills signed today, will significantly improve on our seniors’ quality of life,” said Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos. “We are going to continue working to provide high-quality services to our neighbors of every age.”

With his ceremonially pen, the Governor also signed these pieces of legislation:

H7133B (Reps, Joseph M. McNamara) and S2207A (Sen. Joshua Miller): This legislation authorizes the creation and implementation of a pharmaceutical redistribution program by the Department of Health and the Board of Pharmacy to begin on Jan. 1, 2023.

H7246 (Representative Jason Knight) and S2228 (Senator Cynthia A. Coyne): This legislation lowers the age at which a victim can be considered an elder under the state’s elder financial exploitation laws.

H 7068 (Representative Kathleen A. Fogarty) and S2317   (Senator V. Susan Sosnowski): This legislation makes it easier for senior citizens to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Aging Advocates Gear Up for Next Legislative Session

McKee’s ceremonial signing of legislation was a visible sign to aging advocates that state officials are recognizing that these are wise investments that foster healthy lives and economic security for our growing older population, says Maureen Maigret, Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and serves on the Board of Directors for the Senior Agenda Coalition and the Village Common of RI. “The budget builds on Subcommittee promoted legislation sponsored by Rep. Deb Ruggiero and Sen. Cynthis Coyne to expand the Property Tax Relief law and last year’s addition of close to $1Million in Governor McKee’s budget to increase income eligibility for the Office of Healthy Aging ‘At Home Cost Share’ program and to include persons under age 65 with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” she said. 

According to Maigret, several items from the Sub-committee’s Strategic Plan that did not make it this year are the expansion of the Medicare Savings Program to help lower-income adults pay for Medicare Part B’s hefty premiums and extending the state Paid Family Leave law beyond six weeks which will help families needing to take time out of work to care for both older relatives and children needing medical/nursing care. “These are just some of the items we will be advocating for in 2023,” she said.

Maigret notes that September’s Primary Election is less than a month away. “New laws make it easier to vote.  You can apply online for a mail ballot for the Primary which must be sent in by August 23rd, she says. 

Becoming an Educated Voter on Senior Issues

According to Ballotpedia, the website encyclopedia of American politics, all 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives and 34 Senate Seats will be up for grabs on the midterm elections scheduled for Nov. 8, 2022 . The seats of five of the six non-voting members of the House are also up for election as well. 

Ballotpedia notes, state elective offices up for election in 2022 include 36 gubernatorial seats, 30 lieutenant gubernatorial seats, 30 attorney general seats, and 27 secretary of state seats. Including down-ballot races, there are 309 state executive offices up for election across 44 states in 2022, says Ballotpedia.

Also, 88 of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will also hold regularly scheduled elections, representing 6,278 of the nation’s 7,283 legislative seats, adds Ballotpedia.

The Washington, DC-based AARP gears up its efforts, through its “Our Voices Decide” campaign, to ensure that America’s seniors can continue to maximize their influence on this year’s midterm elections (at both the state and national levels) like they have for previous elections. 

According to AARP Rhode Island, AARP in every state has a voter engagement page that provides information on when, how and where to vote and, in many states, recent changes in voting laws. Ours is at www.aarp.org/RIVotes. This webpage is updated frequently. 

Many states also post video voter guides, in which candidates are asked questions. In Rhode Island – and in every state — candidates were strictly limited to 60 seconds or less to respond. Texts of the questions and answers on video are posted online. The candidate responses appear in alphabetical order, just as they would appear on the ballot, says AARP Rhode Island.

AARP has provided voting information for many years. AARP Rhode Island featured videos of candidates for Governor in 2020. We chose to feature candidates in three contested 2022 Primary races – Governor, 2nd Congressional District and Providence Mayor, says AARP Rhode Island.

“Voting gives you the power to decide what our future looks like,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine said. “But you have to be in the know to vote. AARP Rhode Island sees the importance of collecting the most up-to-date election information, including key dates and deadlines, to make sure that the voices of voters 50+ are heard. We are doing everything we can to make sure older Rhode Islanders are prepared to vote and know the safe and secure voting options included in the new, AARP Rhode Island-backed Let RI Vote Act. Our Video Voter Guide takes this a step further and with an important focus, giving older voters clear, concise answers on issues that impact their lives. Debates and candidate forums seldom focus on these questions and that is why AARP steps in to give voters a non-partisan, trusted resource to better understand where candidates stand before they cast their votes,” she says.

“In Rhode Island and across the country, the data clearly shows that 50+ voters will be the deciders in the 2022 elections,” said Taylor. “We are working with dozens of advocacy volunteers who are fighting for voters 50+ to make their voices heard on the issues that matter – especially in Rhode Island where we are in the midst of a housing crisis, nursing homes are in jeopardy, the cost of long-term care is skyrocketing and where people want leaders who are committed to making local communities more livable,” she adds.

“At the federal level, older voters want to know candidates’ positions on protecting and strengthening the Social Security benefits Americans have paid into and earned through years of hard work, protecting and improving Medicare benefits, lowering prescription drug prices, and supporting family caregivers who risk their careers and financial futures to care for parents, spouses, and other loved ones,” Taylor said.

Other Resources…

On August 3 the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI co-hosted a Governor’s Candidates Forum hosted by 17 organizations (www.senioragendari.org/coalition). To learn how the candidates from both parties responded to seven questions about aging policy and issues. Go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=okQ5FguKMao

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