Cicilline Pushes for House Aging Committee

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 4, 2021

Yesterday, the 116th Congress came to an end, with the new Congressional session convening that day with the swearing in of lawmakers elected on Nov. 3, 2020.   Some political observers say that legislative gridlock during this Congress made it the least productive in the last fifty years.  GovTrack.us, reported that of 16,587 bills thrown into the legislative hopper, 252 became enacted laws, and 712 resolutions were passed.

During a Fox interview last February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) candidly admitted he prevented the consideration of hundreds of bills passed by the House that were sent over to the Senate for consideration.   McConnell’s “Legislative Graveyard” created by his controlling the legislative agenda by blocking debate, markup and refusing to allow a vote on House proposed legislation, was widely reported by the media and documented in a 33-page report, “2020 Democracy Score Card,” released last September by Common Cause, a watch dog advocacy group.

The results of tomorrow’s Georgia Senate runoff will determine if the GOP can maintain legislative control of the Senate. If Senate Democratic candidates win their seats, the Senate Democratic caucus will have the majority with 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris having a tie breaking vote. But if McConnell, called “the Grim Reaper” by his critics, continues to maintains political control of the upper chamber, Democratic legislative proposals introduced to improve the quality of life of America’s seniors and to help those struggling to financially make ends meet, would be rejected.  

Legislative Proposals to be Reconsidered by New Congress

During the116th Congress, Washington, DC-based aging advocacy groups, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) , AARP, Social Security Works, Leadership Council on Aging, and National Council on Aging, pushed for passage of legislative proposals to enhance the quality of life of America’s seniors and to strengthen and expand Social Security and Medicare, to keep these programs fiscally sound.  As the new Congress begins, lawmakers might consider bringing back legislative proposals that were not enacted in the previous Congressional session because of a Republican-controlled Senate.  Here are a few legislative proposals that have some merit and I hope to see reintroduced this year:

Congressman John Larson (D-Conn.) called on Congress to finally address the Social Security “Notch” issue. By ignoring this issue, workers born in 1960 and 1961, would likely see lower Social Security retirement benefits in the future, charged NCPSSM.  Last session, Larson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, introduced the “Social Security COVID Correction and Equity Act,” to increase benefits for those born in 1960 and 1961 without impacting the benefits for any other beneficiary. 

Larson also introduced the “Social Security 2100 Act” to strengthen and expand Social Security.  The landmark legislation would keep the program financially healthy for more than 75 years, while boosting benefits for all retirees. Congress must work during the 117th session to protect and expand the nation’s Social Security program.

The late Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Chair of the House Oversight Committee, introduced the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act” which the House passed last session, would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription prices with Big Pharma, which would save the government and seniors nearly $350 billion in drug costs. The bill would also expand traditional Medicare by adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits. 

Additionally, a bipartisan crafted bill, the “Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act,” introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), was not allowed to be considered on the Senate floor by Senate Majority Leader McConnell.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would save taxpayers $95 billion, reduce out-of-pocket spending by $72 billion and finally reduce premiums by $1 billion.

Almost three months ago, the Social Security Administration announced that approximately 70 million Americans would see a meager 1.3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase to Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income.  With retirees experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic, a $20 increase in their monthly check might not help them to pay for spiraling health care and drug costs, along with the expenses of purchasing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep them safe. 

Following the announcing of the 2021 COLA, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation Committee, introduced the “Emergency Social Security COLA for 2021 Act” to provide Social Security beneficiaries with a 3 percent increase (or a $250 per month flat increase) which would reduce the impact of the small 2021 COLA increase. 

With COVID-19 quickly spreading throughout the nation’s nursing homes and intermediate care facilities, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), “The Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act,” to provide needed resources to facilities to protect frail residents and staff. Residents in these facilities are among the most vulnerable because of their age and underlying medical conditions.  Days after the introduction of the Senate bill, Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), signed on as a cosponsor of the House version.  

This legislative proposal would help states implement strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings, including through the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing and to support nursing home workers with premium pay, overtime and other essential benefits.

New Push to Reestablish House Aging Committee

“After a lifetime of hard work, seniors should be able to enjoy their retirement years with dignity and peace of mind,” says Rhode Island’s Cicilline. “It’s the best way to secure the future of Medicare and Social Security, bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and find solutions for housing, transportation and long-term care issues that are especially important to Rhode Island seniors,” he says.

A long-time advocate for seniors, Cicilline announces in this weekly commentary his intentions of reintroducing a House resolution in the 117th Congress to reestablish the House Aging Committee

During the previous three Congressional sessions, Cicilline, representing the state’s first legislative district, introduced a House Resolution (just 245 words) to reestablish a House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. Two of the times a Republican-controlled House blocked consideration of the House Resolution. 

According to Cicilline, the House can easily create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by just approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other aspects.  Funding would be up to the Appropriations Committee. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

The previous House Aging Committee was active from 1974 to 1993 (until it was disbanded because of budgetary issues) put the spot light on an array of senior issues including elder abuse, helped increase home care benefits for older adults and helped establish research and care centers for Alzheimer’s disease.  

Cicilline noted that a House Aging Committee would perform comprehensive studies on aging policy issues, funding priorities, and trends.  Like its predecessor, its efforts would not be limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committee but broadly at targeted aging policy issues, he notes.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get the job done,” says Cicilline.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Updated on Jan. 4, 2021

Congress Must Protect Seniors in ‘Phase Four’ Stimulus Package

Published in the Woonsocket Call on April 12, 2020

Just weeks after Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the $2.2 trillion emergency stimulus package signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, lawmakers continue to look for ways to jump start the nation’s economy by passing another stimulus package. Lawmakers had previously passed two bipartisan stimulus bills to lessen the economic impact of the virus pandemic. Now, Congress is looking to hammer out another emergency stimulus bill to follow up the historic CARES Act.

Days ago, Senate Democrats successfully blocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) efforts to pass a $250 billion in small business coronavirus relief funds to put more money into the CARE Act’s Paycheck Protection Program, expected to quickly run out of money.

McConnell sought to pass the GOP crafted bill without negotiating with Senate Democrats. The Democrats had no objection to passage but wanted some loans reserved for businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans. They also wanted their priorities like unemployment benefits, foods stamps and community health centers to be added to the bill. Even if the legislation passed in the Senate it would have difficulty passing in the House without including Democratic priorities.

Providing for Seniors in Next Emergency Stimulus Package

The Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), calls for more to be done in the fourth stimulus package to help seniors survive the COVID-19 pandemic, both physically and financially.

On April 7, Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s president and CEO, sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers not to forget seniors as they begin to craft new Coronavirus relief legislation. He called for provisions to be put in the legislative package to boost Social Security benefits and to expand Medicare and Medicaid services to help seniors survive the pandemic crisis.

“We have been aggressively working to improve seniors’ programs for many years, but the pandemic has ratcheted their needs to the top of the list. Older Americans are among the most vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. Their struggles are significantly aggravated by the crisis. It makes sense to expand and protect the health and income security for older citizens, who in turn contribute so much to the economy and our quality of life,” says Richtman.

Richtman called on Congress to increase by $250 the monthly benefit for all Social Security, Veterans, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries through the end of 2021. He pushed for the enactment of the improvements in Rep. John Larson’s Emergency Social Security Benefits Act, including an increase in widows’ and widowers’ benefits for lower-and-middle-income beneficiaries, and raising the threshold for the minimum benefit to 125 percent of the federal poverty line.

Richtman also lobbied for creation of a new Medicaid grant for states to boost their home and community-based long-term care services and to extend the 90-day prescription refill rule applied to Medicare in the CARES Act to all patients. He asked Congress to ensure all prescription drugs for COVID-19 be provided at no cost for all individuals whether they are insured or not.

Protecting the Fiscal Viability of Social Security

“A Marshall Plan for the beleaguered Social Security Administration (SSA) is what is need, considering all of the workloads that currently are being deferred,” says Richtman.

This could be accomplished by appropriating additional $400 million for the SSA’s operating budget to help the agency cope with the increase in coronavirus-related claims, including expected survivors’ benefit applications, he says.

During the economic 2011 and 2012 economic downturns, Congress passed SSA payroll tax cuts to reduce the amount of money withheld from employees’ paycheck to increase take-home pay. Lasts month, President Trump successfully pushed Congress to include a payroll tax cut provision in the recently passed CARES Act to stimulate the economy during the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Seeking to protect Social Security’s fiscal viability, Richtman called on lawmakers to oppose any attempts to allocated Social Security Trust Funds for the “purposes for which they not intended, such as a means to stimulate the economy. “A payroll tax cut, suspension or deferral chip away at the fundamental idea, making it easier each time it is enacted to turn to it again to meet some future crisis, until the payroll tax is permanently eliminated,” he added.

Richtman reminded Congressional lawmakers that many low-income seniors will no longer be able to eat at the local senior and day care programs, or at charitable mean programs while they shelter in place. “That’s why Congress should increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15 percent of the duration of the downturn,” he said, noting that a small increase (around $100) per month would help to put food on the table while boosting the economy.

Millions of seniors will require assistance as public health officials attempt to but the brakes to the skyrocketing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Congress must not forget that seniors especially those with severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at a higher risk in developing the more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. Congress lawmakers must not forget seniors as they begin their efforts craft the next COVID-19 relief legislation.

Tune in on Next Tuesday’s Senor Telephone Townhall

Congressman David N. Cicilline will host a telephone town hall this Tuesday, April 14th at 2pm on how seniors can best access benefits included in the $2.2 trillion of relief passed by Congress. The Democratic Congressman will be joined by Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging Director Rosamaria (“Rose”) Amoros Jones. The event is the third in Cicilline’s “Relief for Rhode Island” series on how folks can get the assistance they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cicilline’s Seniors Telephone Town Hall is free and open to the public and members of the media. Those interested in joining the telephone town hall this Tuesday at 2pm can do so by dialing 855-962-1055.

Millions of seniors will require assistance as public health officials attempt to but the brakes to the skyrocketing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Congress must not forget that seniors especially those with severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at a higher risk in developing the more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. Congress lawmakers must not forget seniors as they begin their efforts craft the next COVID-19 relief legislation.

Cicilline to Reintroduce Resolution to Reestablish House Aging Committee

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 18, 2018

In October 1992, the House eliminated the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging charged with investigating and putting a spotlight on aging policy. The Committee was instrumental in conducting research and publishing a number of reports on elder abuse, leading to the passage of reform legislation intended to improve nursing home operations and reduce abuse against patients. The Committee’s work also led to increased home care benefits for the aging, establishing research and care centers for Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other accomplishments on a broad array of aging issues.

Over 26 years later, on March 1, 2016, Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced his House resolution 160 to reestablish the Committee. He would attract Rhode Island Congressman James R. Langevin (D-RI) and 23 other cosigners (no Republicans) out of 435 lawmakers, but would ultimately see no legislative action taken. “I discussed this proposal with Speaker Paul Ryan (R- WI) and followed up with a letter asking him to move forward with this idea, but he declined to do so.”

“I think many of my Democratic colleagues didn’t think this resolution would get much traction with a Republican controlled House, but we did get Seniors Task Force Co-Chairs, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), which was important,” says the Rhode Island Congressman.

A New Opportunity with a House Democratic Majority

With a Republican-controlled Congress successfully blocking Cicilline’s simple resolution from reaching the floor for a vote, the Democratic lawmaker says he will reintroduce House resolution 160 in the new Congress with the Democrats controlling the chamber’s legislative agenda. “With Democrats in the majority, I think there will be more interest from other members in this resolution,” he says, noting, “We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive.

“I will first reintroduce the resolution [in the new Congress] and build support from members and then present the proposal to my House leadership. We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive,” says Cicilline, noting that he will reach out to aging groups for support, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations, whose leadership includes Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and AARP.

“Of course, I would be honored to lead the reestablished House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, but that decision will be made by the incoming Speaker,” says Cicilline.

According to Cicilline, the House can readily create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other aspects. Funding would be up to the Appropriations Committee. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Cicilline says that a newly established House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would be charged to conduct comprehensive studies on aging policy issues, funding priorities and trends. As its predecessor, its efforts would not be limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committee but broadly at targeted aging policy issues.

“Our nation’s seniors deserve dedicated attention by lawmakers to consider the legislative priorities that affect them, including strengthening Social Security and Medicare, reducing the costs of prescription drugs, and the particular challenges of poverty, housing, long-term care, and other important issues,” adds Cicilline.

Aging Advocates Call for Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging

When Max Richtman, CEO and President of the Washington, D.C-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), and former Staff Director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, heard of Cicilline’s efforts to bring back the House Select Committee on Aging almost three years ago, he remarked, “It’s long overdue.” The Select Committee will once again provide serious oversight and lay the ground work for House legislative proposals impacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said.

Richtman says that NCPSSM has just joined a working group to push for the reestablishment of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging spearheaded by Howard Bedlin of the National Council on Aging. This group will devise strategies to resurrect the Committee, adds Richtman.

Richard Fiesta, Executive Director at the Alliance for Retired Americans, whose organization chairs the LCAO, representing over 70 aging groups, says that its membership voted this month to support and push for the reestablishment of the House Select Committee on Aging. “Members during the discussion expressed views that the Committee can be a focal point on aging issues such as such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, long term care, and prescription drug prices,” says Fiesta, noting that it could provide important oversight on the U.S. Administration of Aging programs and be a forum for emerging issues such as home care needs.

“With 10,000 American turning age 65 each day, a Select Committee on Aging would be an important step in addressing the needs of older Americans,” says Fiesta.

Bill Benson, a former staff director of the Subcommittee on Housing and Consumer Interests, one of the four subcommittees of the House Select Committee on Aging, concurs with Richtman that the establishing the Committee is “long overdue.”

“During the 26 years we’ve been without the House counterpart to the Senate Special Committee on Aging,” which Benson also served on, “the House has not had an equivalent powerful voice for advancing critical issues for an aging society as we’ve had in the Senate. To successfully improve national policy requires both chambers of the Congress to be fully engaged. Restoring the House Select Committee on Aging would be important to do that.”

Howard Bedlin, National Council on Aging Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, adds: “A House Select Committee on Aging will raise visibility of the challenges older Americans are facing every day and support the work of authorizing committees to craft bipartisan policy solutions. Aging is an issue for all Americans. Discussion about the systemic strains that come with longevity and a growing aging population, or highlighting the many intergenerational needs of families across the country can only lead to better understanding and ultimately better support for all Americans as we age.”

Taking an Important Step to Protecting Seniors

As Cicilline gears up to put together the bipartisan support to pass his reintroduced to reestablish the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, he says, “Overall, this resolution represents an important step towards protecting our seniors and the benefits they have earned, like Social Security and Medicare.”

“The reestablishment of this Select Committee on Aging would emphasize Congress’ commitment to our current and future seniors and would allow us to focus our energy to ensure that they are able to live with dignity and enjoy a high quality of life,” he adds.

A Washington insider tells me that some Democratic House lawmakers and aging groups are now pushing to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging through new rules enacted by the incoming House Democratic leadership. The Washington, DC-based LCAO can now play a pivotal role in reestablishing the House Select Committee by advocating for and supporting Cicilline’s resolution that will be introduced in the next Congress or backing the attempt to change House rules. As the House takes up in the new Congress its debates on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and other issues of importance to older adults, it will be important to have a House Select Committee that once again puts the spotlight and attention on America’s aging issues.