Senior Agenda Coalition of RI zeros in on key aging legislation 

Published in RINewsToday on May 30, 2022

As the General Assembly winds down, the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island (SACRI) is tracking 16 House and Senate Bills along with FY 24 Budget Articles that have an impact on the state’s senior population. In a legislative alert, SACRI details a listing of 16 House and Senate bills and FY23 Budget Articles relating to care givers, mobile dental services, supplemental nutrition, housing, tax relief and home care worker wages. 

The state’s largest organization of aging groups is focusing and pushing for passage of the following four bills during the upcoming weeks.

SCARI puts on its radar screen S-2200/H-7489 to push for passage. The legislation (prime sponsors Senator Louis DiPalma (D-District 12) and Representative Julie Casimiro (D-District 31), establishes a process which would require Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), assisted by a 24-member advisory committee, to provide review and recommendations for rate setting, and ongoing review of medical and clinical service programs licensed by state departments, agencies and Medicaid.  

Meanwhile, DiPalma and Casimiro have also introduced S-2311/H-7180 to require a 24-member advisory committee to provide review/recommendations for rate setting/ongoing review of social service programs licensed by state departments/agencies and Medicaid. The House and Senate Finance Committees have recommended these measures be held for further study.

Ratcheting Up the Pay for Rhode Island’s Home Care Workers

In testimony on April 28th, SACRI’s Executive Director Bernard J. Beaudreau says, “Because payment levels for services have not been updated in years, especially in our current inflation ,levels, the low-pay level of direct care workers has created workforce shortages, impoverished workers and has put at risk our ability to provide proper care for our aging elder population.”

“Shamefully, an estimated 1 in 5 Rhode Island home care workers live in poverty and most have insufficient incomes to meet their basic needs,” says Beaudreau, calling for enactment of this bill to raise the wages of the lowest paid care workers as a top priority. 

S-2200 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee and companion measure, H 7489, was referred to the House Finance committees for review.  After hearings in their respective chambers, both bills are being held for further study. 

At press time, the Rhode Island General Assembly is hammering out its state budget for Fiscal Year 2023, taking effect July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.  SACARI calls on the state to make it a budgetary priority to address Rhode Island’s home care crisis.

According to Maureen Maigret, Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, who also serves SACRI as a volunteer policy adviser and Board Member, says that the Governor’s budget calls for suspending use of an estimated $38.6 million in state funds which, by law, should be used to enhance home and community-based services. This law, says Maigret, is referred to as the “Perry-Sullivan” law after its sponsors.

Maigret calls for these funds to be used to increase home care provider rates so they may be fair and competitive to home care workers and increase rates for independent providers.  Many of these workers are low-income, women, and women of color, she says.

Lowering the property taxes for Rhode Island’s low-income seniors

SACRI also calls for the Rhode Island General Assembly to provide property tax relief for low-income seniors and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) recipients. As housing costs rise and property taxes increase, more older Rhode Islanders with limited or fixed incomes and those on SSDI are becoming housing tax burdened, says the Providence-based the aging advocacy coalition. 

In SACRI’s legislative alert, Maigret calls for the passage of H-7127 and S-2192, with primary sponsors Representative Deborah Ruggiero (D-District 74) and Senator Cynthia Armour Coyne (D-32), charging that Rhode Island’s property tax relief law needs urgent updating.

Rhode Island’s Property Tax Review Law, sometimes referred to as the Circuit Breaker Law, needs serious updating. Initially the law was enacted to help provide property tax relief for persons aged 65 and over and to those on SSDI, says Maigret.  It is currently available to those with incomes up to $30,000 (set in 1999) and provides a credit or refund up to $415 against a person’s state taxes owed.  Both homeowners and renters are eligible to a apply. 

H-7127 and S-2192 would make hundreds of older Rhode Islanders eligible to participate by increasing the income cap from $30,000 to $ 50,000. Maigret notes that if these bills pass, a person with household incomes of $35,000 who is not eligible now could be eligible to get a refund of up to $850 next year. “These changes would provide direct relief against high property taxes and make Rhode Island more in line with our neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts,” she says.

Finally, Executive Director Beaudreau testified on May 17th before the House Finance Committee, calling for the passage of H-7616, Reinstating the Department of Healthy Aging. “The time is long overdue for the state to re-invest in serving the needs of aging population,” he says, noting that “the state’s total population of 65 years and older has grown by 20% from 152,283 in 2010 to 182,486 today.”

Beaudreau testified that the “data clearly indicates that Rhode Island should be increasing plans, resources and services to meet the need of the state’s aging population, not cutting back.” The state’s budget has not kept up with the growth needed in the Office of Healthy Aging, charged with overseeing the state’s programs and services for older Rhode Islanders. “Additional funding is needed for increasing the Department’s staffing capacity and increasing financial support of Senior Centers serving thousands of older Rhode Islanders every say,” he adds.

But do not forget oral health of seniors, says SACRI.  According to the aging coalition, the importance of accessing quality oral health care in nursing homes is key to a nursing facility resident’s health, well-being and quality of life. Poor oral health care results in a higher incidence of, pneumonia cardiovascular disease diabetes, bone loss and cancer; all situations increasing the frequency of accessing medical care resulting in higher costs. 

Improving oral health care to Rhode Island’s seniors and special populations

SACRI calls for the passage of S-2588 and H-7756, bills that would provide for reimbursement for patient site encounter mobility dentistry visits to be increased to $180 per visit. The state’s reimbursement for mobile dentistry site visits began in 2008, only in nursing homes, but failed to provide funding for dental care in other settings. 

These bills would also expand the availability of this service to additional community-based group homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health and intellectual and developmental disability day programs. Passage of these bills will increase access to special populations who have difficulty in accessing basic dental services.

S-2588, referred to the Senate Finance Committee, was held for further study.  The House companion measure is scheduled to be heard on May 28th at a House Finance Committee hearing. 

Reimbursement for this service has not increased since it was initially funded over 14 years ago and does not cover the cost of delivering this critical service, says SACRI.

SACRI says “Make your voice heard!  Call House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (401 222-2466) and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (401 222-6555) and your legislative delegation to urge supporting SACRI’s priority legislation. 

To see a listing of SACRI’s 2022 Priority Legislation, go to https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/049a7960-1c2a-4880-afdd-8d1e0e283acc/downloads/SACRI%20Bill%20Tracker%202022.pdf?ver=1653052514912.

For more details about SACRI, go to https://senioragendari.org/

AARP: Vaccinate seniors now!Leaders respond. Add YOUR voice.

Published in RINewsToday.com on January 25, 2021

The debate heats up as to how Rhode Island should distribute its limited stock of COVID-19 vaccine. Days ago, AARP Rhode Island urged state officials and lawmakers to put seniors on the top of the list to protect their lives. Older Rhode Islanders should be a priority in getting vaccinated, says the state’s largest nonprofit. 

AARP Rhode Island, generally speaking, reserves sending public letters to public officials for the most critical of issues. Because of the pandemic, a critical issue, AARP is reaching out to its 132,000 Ocean State members and the public at large to demand immediate change.

“The message AARP wants sent to the Governor and State Leaders reads, in part, “Rhode Islanders 50 and older account for 98% of the state’s more than 2,000 COVID deaths. Yet only a quarter of vaccinations to date have been administered to older Rhode Islanders. You must revise the plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable among us. I am therefore calling on you to revise the state vaccination plan immediately to prioritize vaccinating our 50 and older population. There is no time to waste,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell.

A Call to Revising the State’s Vaccination Distribution Plan

Connell added, “Now that the state has responded to AARP Rhode Island’s call to make the state’s COVID vaccination plan and its execution more transparent, I am alarmed and dismayed to find data only now available reveals that just 25% of vaccinations to date have been administered to Rhode Islanders age 60 and older.”

“The current disparity — which flies in the face of federal health recommendations and causes great concern for many older Rhode Islanders and their families — is inexplicable, life threatening and unacceptable,” says Connell. 

AARP Rhode Island’s work is part of a nationwide effort, says Connell. “AARP is advocating hard to ensure every older American who wants to get the vaccine can get it,” said AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy A. LeaMond.

“It’s also vital that distribution plans for authorized vaccines are smoothly implemented,” LeaMond added. “There’s no time to waste: it’s time for full-scale mobilization, and any delays or early bottlenecks in distribution systems need to be addressed urgently. AARP remains committed to protecting the health and well-being of our nearly 38 million members and all Americans as we work together to defeat this virus,” she said.

Rhode Island leaders respond to AARP’s call

Speaker of the House of Representatives Shekarchi:

“We all want the most at-risk people, including our seniors, to have access to the vaccine absolutely as soon as possible. My father is 94, and it will be a tremendous relief to me and my family when he is protected,” said House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23 Warwick). “President Biden’s timeline includes prioritizing access to the vaccine for those 65 and older, and it’s important that we comply with it,” he says.  

“I understand we need greater supply. Our House COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force will vigilantly monitor the distribution to ensure our state is doing everything we can to get the vaccine to those most at risk, particularly those 65 and older, as soon as possible, in cooperation with the federal government,” adds Shekarchi.

Dr. Chan, RI Dept. of Health:

In a Jan. 22 email vaccine update, Dr. Phillip A. Chan, MD, MS, the Rhode Island Department of Health’s (RIDOH) Consultant Medical Director, reported that 66,070 doses of vaccine had been administered in Rhode Island (52,925 first doses, and 13,145 second doses). “We are working hard to distribute vaccine, but supply remains very limited. Right now, we’re receiving enough first doses each week for about 1.5 percent of our population. While other states are in the same position, Rhode Island ranks among the top states nationally in terms of the rate of second doses administered,” he said.

As to the vaccination distribution timetable, Chan noted that nursing home residents and staff began to get vaccinated in December. “This week, we started to vaccinate in assisted living facilities and other congregate living settings.  By middle of February, we expect the vaccine will be available for adults 75 and older,” he says. 

According to Chan, there are 187,000 Rhode Islanders age 65 or older. “Since we are only getting 14,000 first doses of vaccine a week, we are taking a stepwise approach to this group as well,” he noted in RIDOH’s vaccine update.  “Please note that there is no action older adults need to take at this time to get a vaccine. When we are ready to start vaccinating this population, we will communicate with the public, healthcare providers, and community organizations to provide instructions.”

Incoming Governor, Lt. Gov. McKee:

Meeting outside Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s Cumberland home, WPRI reporters, Eli Sherman and Brittany Schaefer, got insight into McKee’s thoughts about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy and issues surrounding this distribution. They report the details in a Jan. 23 WPRI blog article, “McKee: Teachers should get vaccine before others in Rhode Island.” McKee will move into the governor’s seat once Gov. Gina Raimondo is confirmed as U.S. Commerce Secretary.  

Here are some points from McKee’s interview in the Sherman and Schaefer’s blog article: 

“We need to really move up on the list teachers and the support staff in schools,” McKee said. “We’re not going to open the economy until we do that, and teachers are not going to feel comfortable by and large until we get them vaccinated.” (Teachers are not in the Rhode Island Department of Health’s phase one vaccination rollout)

“Prioritizing educators would inevitably delay vaccinations for all non-educators, and McKee did not name any other group Saturday that he thought should be prioritized. When asked specifically about adults 65 years and older, McKee said he expected they would also be prioritized, but underscored the state is only receiving a limited amount of supply of the vaccine from the federal government,” says the WPRI blog.

President Joe Biden encourages states to make it a priority to vaccinate people age 65 and over, along with grocery store workers and teachers. No specifics have been released yet by his administration. 

“I think it’s a supply issue, but that age group is a priority,” McKee said. “We’re going to follow the lead of the Biden administration”.  

Stay tuned as the debate continues on how Rhode Island should disseminate its limited COVID-19 stockpile – and what it can move to when the flow of vaccine becomes more generous.

Give Governor Gina Raimondo your thoughts as to AARP Rhode Island’s call for vaccinating people age 50 and over “immediately”.  Here’s the governor’s contact details:  Governor Gina Raimondo, 82 Smith Street, Providence, RI 02903; email: governor@governor.ri.gov; phone: (401) 222-8096.