General Assembly considers “Granny Flats” proposal

Published in RINewsToday on April 24, 2023

By Herb Weiss

After AARP Rhode Island’s successful efforts to pass legislation last year, giving more flexibility to the types of structures and arrangements that would quality as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), during this year’s legislative session the state’s largest aging group is working closely with state lawmakers, aging and house groups to advance H 6082. Introduced by Rep. June Speakman (D-District 68, Bristol/Warren), the bill makes further improvements to enable more Rhode Islanders an opportunity to develop ADUs on their property. 

ADUs, sometimes called “in-law apartments” and “granny flats,” are accessories to existing housing, either as a conversion of part of a house (such as with a walkout basement), an attachment to a house or a smaller, detached dwelling. They have become increasingly popular around the nation in recent years as states and municipalities grapple with expanding the existing housing stock while preserving the feel of residential neighborhoods. Seniors, especially, have taken to ADUs as a way to downsize their living space while staying independent in the community.

H 6082 was written in collaboration with AARP Rhode Island, for whom increasing production of ADUs has been a primary policy goal for several years.

Encouraging the Construction of ADUs

H. 6082 would provide homeowners the right to develop an ADU on any lot larger than 20,000 square feet, provided that the design satisfies building code and infrastructure requirements. H 6082 would also provide homeowners on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet to construct an ADU within the existing footprint of the primary structure or existing secondary attached or detached structure that does not expand the footprint of the structure, provided that the design satisfies building code, size limits and infrastructure requirements.

The purpose of H. 6082 is to encourage the development of rental units that are likely to be affordable, and also provide opportunities for homeowners with extra space to generate income that helps them maintain ownership of that property.

To ensure that the bill achieves its goal of housing Rhode Islanders, the legislation prohibits ADUs constructed under this provision from being used as short-term rentals and streamlines the permitting process.  Speakman considers H 6082 to be a small but important part of the much broader effort that Rhode Island must adopt to encourage the development of affordable housing.

“Our housing crisis is very complex, and we must be creative and identify all the tools we can to create housing that makes the most of our resources. This particular bill removes some of the obstacles to building ADUs while respecting municipal land use policies,” says Speakman in a statement announcing her sponsorship of the ADU legislation.

“For many people, especially single people, and older adults, ADUs provide just enough space and could be a more affordable option than a larger, traditional apartment. For some, they might make it possible to stay in their neighborhood after downsizing from their own home, or they might be an opportunity to live in a neighborhood where apartments are scarce or are otherwise out of their price range,” notes Speakman, calling for more rental units.

“Accessory dwelling units are a great option to enable seniors to live at home independently and with dignity near their loved ones. They are also a very simple way to increase housing stock. Like several of the other pieces of legislation in the housing package I’ve put forward this year, this bill was developed based on feedback: in this case, from AARP, who made the ADU legislation one of their top priorities for this session,” stated House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23, Warwick). “I am proud to support and co-sponsor this legislation because I know what a difference it will make for many seniors in Rhode Island to safely age in place,” he said.

Hearing puts spotlight on housing bills

On March 16th, the Municipal Government and Housing Committee held a hearing on H 6082, part of a 14-bill housing package had earlier in the month by Shekarchi to encourage housing production. The legislation in the package stems from the work of the House Commission to Study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which Speakman has led since its inception in 2021, and another commission studying all aspects of land use and development.

In her testimony, AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor stated that passing H 6082 would be a “great step forward” to improve the existing ADU legislation and to provide municipalities with guidance on how to apply the law in their locality.

ADUs can potentially improve the lives of seniors, caregivers, and people of all ages, too, says Taylor. According to AARP Rhode Island’s November 2021 Vital Voices survey over 54% of Rhode Islanders over age 45 would consider creating an ADU if the space was available.  In addition, a strong majority (84%) of Rhode Islanders aged 45 and over strongly or somewhat support town ordinances that makes it easier for property owners to create an ADU.

“Allowing ADUs by right where the proposed ADU is located within the existing footprint of the primary structure or existing secondary attached or detached structure and does not expand the footprint of the structure will provide the housing options and security that Rhode Island residents are looking for,” notes Taylor.

Warwick resident Keri-Lynn Edge and her husband contemplated building an addition on her property for her widowed mother who required constant care and assistance with activities of daily living. “Buying a home or condo, even if closer to us, would leave us in a similar predicament. It would take me away from my home to care for her and handle her affairs. So, an ADU seemed like the perfect solution,” she told the Committee. 

“Unfortunately, I am currently at a standstill with how to progress, and I am hopeful that this talk of ADUs comes to fruition,” says Edge, noting that the City of Warwick only allows one dwelling on a property and even though it is aware of H 6082 it won’t authorize building of ADUs until legislation is enacted.

In comments, retired Registered Nurse Timothy Tobin spoke of his long-standing plan to build an ADU on his daughter’s property in Bristol to live closer to her and his five grandchildren. Ultimately, he found out that in Rhode Island’s economic climate, specifically in his town, this project was too costly. “Between restrictive town and state building codes and very high prices for the actual building to comply with the codes, our dream is all but dashed,” he said.

RI Housing, the Housing NetworkRI Realtors, and the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association (offering comments to make the bill clear) submitted testimony supporting the expansion of ADUs. Governor Dan McKee, sending his blessing and support for the passage of H 6082, noted it will “clarify and noting that it will streamline permitting processes, standardize notice and advertising requirements, and incentivize creative ways to build more housing in Rhode Island.   

And RI AARP members sent dozens of emails from all corners of the state urging the Municipal Government and Housing Committee to pass the ADU legislative proposal, too.

Although there was no opposition at the committee hearing for the legislative proposal, the House GOP caucus supports the concept, but expressed concerns about its impact on Rhode Island communities.  “While ADUs have been a fabric of housing throughout Rhode Island including the rural districts that I represent, they bring with them some concerns that should not be overlooked,” says House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale (R-District 40, Foster, Glocester).” The current proposal can be modified into an effective tool to help combat the housing shortage, but it requires input from all of our municipalities – particularly those like the ones in my remote district,” he notes.

Chippendale says that this legislative proposal currently before the Assembly isn’t inherently bad, but it needs to consider the challenges it creates for all  39 municipalities. “For example – if there is not sufficient off-street parking, which this bill severely limits, towns like Foster, Glocester, Western Coventry and others can have problems. Issues such as snow plowing an already narrow roadway, the passage of large vehicles such as fire trucks, garbage trucks and others that can be impacted by cars parking on the roads.  Further, they can represent a drain on limited resources such as drinking water when more people are being allowed to draw from an existing aquifer that may already be operating under duress. The same applies to neighborhoods that have water districts with limited water supply,” he adds. 

Ultimately, no action was taken at the hearing, noted House Communications Director Larry Berman, noting that it’s the usual practice to receive input at the first hearing. “We expect a second hearing to be held in the coming weeks in which it will likely be voted on and moved to the full House for consideration,” he said.

According to Berman, the Senate has not yet duplicated this bill, but he anticipates that the upper chamber will before the end of the session in June. “It won’t be included in the budget because it doesn’t have a fiscal impact on the state,” he stated, noting .

Speakman has backing from House leadership.  In addition to Speaker Shekarchi, it is co-sponsored by Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian of East Providence, who is the number three ranking member in House leadership, and also by Chairman Stephen Casey of Woonsocket, who chairs the House Municipal Government and Housing Committee where the bill is the being considered.  Of course, Speakman chairs the House Commission on Low and Moderate Income Housing as well.

Other H 6082 cosponsors are: Rep. Megan Cotter (D-District 39, Exeter, Richmond); Rep. Jason Knight (D-District 67, Barrington; Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-District 69, Bristol and Portsmouth; Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-District 34, Narragansett, South Kingston); Rep. Cherie Cruz (D-District 58, Pawtucket); Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-District 72, Middletown, Portsmouth).

While the House mulls over Speakman’s legislative proposal, Smithfield just passed an ADU ordinance allowing property owners of single-family and multi-family homes to construct ADUs up to 900 square feet.  Other communities might consider following this community’s lead. 

With strong support of House Democratic caucus and no fiscal impact on the state coffers, there’s a very good chance that H 6082 might just make it to the legislative finish line.  Now it is time for the Senate to quickly act and pass a companion measure.  Expanding ADUs in every Rhode Island community is sound housing policy that will provide access to much needed housing. It’s the right thing to do.  


Annual AARP Snapshot of Older Travelers

Published in RINewsToday on April 17, 2023

Older travelers are gearing up for their big adventures with summertime just around the corner.  Continued inflation combined with sky-high flight costs won’t deter these individuals from planning family travel, according to a newly published AARP report. AARP’s 2023 Travel Trends survey (initially begun in 2015) examines the travel behaviors, expectations, and planning among adults.  

According to AARP’s survey findings released last week, three out five people 50-plus surveyed said they anticipate traveling in 2023 – similar to the results of last year’s travel survey. In 2015, an AARP travel research study found that found that road trips in particular are a great way to discover new adventures and connect with loved ones while still being affordable. This continues today, researchers say, noting that seniors will travel and want to save on costs. Many have found road  trips offer the flexibility and freedom they seek, they note.

Gearing up for big travel adventurers

As older travelers gear up for their big travel adventurers, similar to last year, more than half the trips anticipated in 2023 are either booked or in the planning stages, says the AARP travel study, noting that among those planning 84% have selected a destination, significantly less that what was reported in 2019 (89%).

The researchers say that road trips fulfill older travelers’ top motivation for travel in 2023, to spend more time with family and friends. They offer a set of unique benefits over other forms of travel, such as the ability to visit local attractions on the way, experience local food and culture and enjoy scenic routes on the drive.  

“Though costs are higher than normal this year, older adults are once again eager to travel. Our research shows that travel is at the top of their priority lists,” says Patty David, AARP Vice President of Consumer Insights, announcing the 2023 travel survey results on April 12, 2023.  “And, with the ability to bring family members along, many find road trips to be a budget-friendly choice as well as a fun one. Multi-generational road trips can improve emotional well-being, increase connections with loved ones, and benefit overall energy,” she says. 

Throughout the 45-page report, the researcher’s findings painted a picture about the travel habits providing interesting tidbits of information about the travel habits of seniors. For instance, most older travelers (85%) rank travel in their top three priorities for discretionary spending, significantly higher than other kinds of expenses. The findings also suggested that family trips are seniors number one motivator for domestic travel this year, ranking well above solo vacations. 

For 2023, 61% of travelers anticipate domestic-only travel. 50% of their domestic trips will be by car this year, compared to 43% in 2022.  Even with the high price of gas.  

Traveling at home or abroad

Domestic travelers plan to take more trips to the U.S. South (38%) and West (31%) than other parts of the country. The most popular destinations in 2023 are Florida (15%), California (8%), Las Vegas (7%), Texas (4%), Arizona (4%) and New York (4%), notes the AARP travel study.

When traveling overseas, air travel still remains the most popular mode of transportation (69%). Fewer 50 plus travelers will be booking passage on a cruise ship (down 9% from last year’s travel study). For those cruising, 70% say they enjoy seeing multiple locations.

The researchers found that seniors seeking to travel overseas are making their travel plans earlier in the year in 2023. They found that Europe (42%) still remains the most planned international designation, followed by Latin America/Caribbean (33%). This year’s travel survey reported that the most popular destinations attracting older travelers are Italy (8%), Great Britain (7%), France (7%), Ireland (4%), and Germany (3%).  For those attracted to Latin America/Caribbean, older travelers chose Mexico (12%), Bahamas (2%) and Aruba (2%).

As in previous years, hotels or motels are still preferred by older travelers when traveling domestically (63%) or internationally (59%), while cruise accommodations decline.

Even with news reports about new strains of COVID emerging, concerns about COVID decreased this past year among 50-plus participants, meaning most travelers (81%) feel that travel is now safe. The study’s findings indicated that seniors aged 70 and older remain the most cautious about COVID impacting their decisions to travel.

Bucket list of places to go

Sixty three percent of the survey’s respondents say they have a budget list of places they would like to visit. “The idea of a bucket list trip is as intriguing today, if not more so, than it was prior to the pandemic lockdown,” noted the AARP report.  However, a change in cost of travel (21%), their discretionary income (12%), or their health 16 %) are potential barriers to taking “bucket list trips,” say the researchers.

AARP gathered this data through a 15-minute online survey of 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older conducted November 10 to December 5, 2022. Respondents sampled had taken at least one trip within the past two years 50 miles or more away from home, with at least a two-night stay. They also were required to have used an online travel site within the past two years and intended to travel for leisure in 2023. For the nontraveler findings, a 10-minute online survey was administered to 500 Americans aged 18 and over who do not plan to travel in 2023, but historically have traveled for leisure purposes.

To view the full 2023 survey results, visit For details, contact Vicki Levy at

For more information on older travelers, visit:

Trustee reports: Social Security and Medicare still face financial woes

Published in RINewsToday on April 10, 2023

Over a week ago, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds released their annual reports on the financial health of these two programs. As in prior years, the trustees found that the Social Security and Medicare programs both continue to face significant financing issues.

The latest Social Security projections show the program is quickly heading toward insolvency and calls for Congress to find policy solutions sooner rather than later to prevent abrupt changes to tax or benefit levels.  The Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) and other aging advocates are urging Congress to take prompt action to strengthen and expand Social Security, while Republicans have been calling for cuts to future retirees’ benefits and at least partly privatizing the program. 

This 270- page 2023 Social Security Trustees Report warns that if Congress does not act, Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) Trust Funds, which help support payouts for the elderly, survivors and disabled, will become depleted in 2033 (that’s a year earlier than forecast last year), becoming totally insolvent in 2034 when beneficiaries would only receive about 80% of their scheduled benefits. 

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), roughly 66 million people received monthly Social Security checks in 2022 (175,840 in Rhode Island). A vast majority, or about 57 million of those beneficiaries, received benefits through the OASI Trust Fund, compared to nearly 9 million people who received benefits through the DI Trust Fund. 

The trustees say that Social Security funds would be fully depleted in 2034 because of expectations of a slowed economy and reduce labor productivity, considering inflation and economic input.

Although the DI Trust Fund asset reserves are not projected to become depleted during the 75-year projection period, being able to pay full benefits through 2097, the combined Social Security funds would only be able to pay 80% of the scheduled benefits after 2034, says the trustees report.

Taking a look at Medicare’s fiscal health

Medicare, the hospital insurance trust fund referred to as Medicare Part A, will only be able to pay scheduled benefits in full until 2031, according to the 273-page trustees’ annual report. The program covered 65 million seniors and people with disabilities in 2022, and will only be able to cover89% of total scheduledbenefits at that time.

Although the Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance trust fund will become insolvent in just eight years, Medicare spending as a whole (including Parts A, B, D, and Medicare Advantage, will continue to grow over the coming years.

The Medicare Trustees project a shortfall of 0.62 percent of payroll, or 0.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), noting that it would take about a 21 percent (0.6 percentage point) increase in the payroll tax rate or a 13 percent spending cut to restore the program’s solvency.

The improvement of Medicare’s hospital trust fund’s finances over last year’s projections can be tied to lower estimates for health care spending after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic along with more projected income that the trustees estimate coming from a larger number of covered.

Dueling political statements

With the Social Security and Medicare Trust Fund reports released on March 31, 2023, the Chair and Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means (HWM) were quick to issue dueling statements to give their political spins. HMW’s Subcommittee on Social Security has jurisdiction on bills and matters related to the Social Security Act.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-Missouri) charged that reckless Democratic spending has impacted the financial viability of the Social Security and Medicare Programs.  “Thanks to President Biden’s economic failures, seniors’ hard-earned benefits are further under threat. Social Security’s combined trust funds are expected to become insolvent a full year sooner than forecast in the previous report as a result of a slowed economy and Democrats’ inflation continuing to outpace wage growth. And Medicare’s latest report comes amidst Biden’s plans to slash seniors’ access to innovative new cures and treatments,” says Smith, stressing that “the first step to protecting these programs is “growing the economy – not budget gimmicks or tax increases that hold back economic growth.

On the other hand, House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Richard E. Neal (D-MA) counters Smith’s political perspective. “While Democrats are committed to the long-term health of these programs, Republicans are launching another shameful assault on the economic well-being of millions of workers and retirees with their plan to make drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare, warns Neal. “Their playbook is clear: slashing a critical resource that Americans have rightfully earned to give another tax cut to the top 1%. Democrats won’t let their reckless attacks stand, and we will continue to defend and protect Social Security and Medicare for generations to come.”

Rhode Island Congressmen were quick to give their comments about the release of the two trustee reports, too. “Unlike the nearly three-quarters of House Republicans who endorsed slashing Social Security in 2022 – reducing benefits by $729 billion over 10 years – House Democrats are working to protect Social Security for generations to come,” says Congressman David N. Cicilline, representing Congressional District 1.  Cicilline, who is retiring his seat on May 31, 2023, has pushed to expand and strengthen Social Security over his six-terms in office.

Cicilline asks: “Sixty-six million Americans rely on this essential program to make ends meet and we cannot allow Republicans to make any cuts to this hard-earned benefit. The drug spending savings implemented by our Inflation Reduction Act will not only keep money in seniors’ pockets but will also drive down costs to Medicare itself. We’ve been taking real action to strengthen these programs and help our seniors – what have Republicans done?”  

As Rhode Island’s newly elected Congressman, Seth Magaziner says he will “fight tooth and nail to protect Rhode Islander’s hard-won Social Security benefits.”   In responding to the trustee’s report about Social Security’s financial woes, Magaziner called for raising the cap on Social Security taxes, forcing “millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate as teachers and fire fighters.”

“I stand ready to work with anyone who is serious about strengthening Social Security, not cutting hard-earned benefits,” says Magaziner. 

While there are few fixes being proposed by either party or leader, some fixes identified by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland that “Americans might be willing to support” include:

–        raising the Social Security payroll tax cap

–        reducing benefits for high earners

–        gradually raising the retirement age

–        increasing the payroll tax

–        raising the minimum benefit

–        changing cost-of-living adjustment calculations

–        increasing benefits for beneficiaries over age 80

Social Security advocacy group gives its two cents

“Contrary to conservative claims, Social Security is not ‘going bankrupt’; the program will always be able to pay benefits because of ongoing contributions from workers and employers. In fact, this is yet another Trustees report showing that Social Security remains strong in the face of turmoil in the rest of the economy,” says Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s President and CEO in a release on the Social Security Trustee Report. He notes that the program’s insolvency date has stayed roughly the same even after a global pandemic and recent economic upheavals. 

Congress can strengthen Social Security by bringing in additional revenues into the program, says Richtman.  NCPSSM endorses legislation introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Congressman John Larson (D-Connecticut) to keep the trust fund solvent for the rest of this century while expanding program benefits.  Both bills would adjust the Social Security payroll wage cap so that higher-income earners begin contributing their fair share, he notes.

As to Medicare, in a release Richtman called on Congress to take “pre-emptive action now” to protect the Medicare Part A trust fund from becoming depleted in 2031, three years later than estimated in their previous report, at which time Medicare could still pay 89% of benefits.  

“Beyond trust fund solvency, the Trustees reported that the standard Medicare Part B premium will rise next year to $174.80 per month – a $10 or six percent monthly increase,” says Richtman. “Any increase is a burden to seniors living on fixed incomes, who too often must choose between paying monthly bills or filling prescriptions and getting proper health care.  Seniors need relief from rising premiums and skyrocketing out-of-pocket health care costs,” he said. 

“We support President Biden’s plan to strengthen Medicare’s finances, as laid out in his FY 2024 budget.  His plan would bring more revenue into the program, rather than cutting benefits as some Republicans have proposed.  Building on the prescription drug pricing reforms in the Inflation Reduction Act, the President’s budget proposal would lower Medicare’s prescription drug costs — and some of those savings would be used to extend the solvency of the Part A trust fund,” said Richtman.

For a copy of the 2023 Social Security Trustee Report, go to

For a copy of 2023 Medicare Trustee Report, go to