Advocates on aging issues review their priorities for Gov. McKee’s policy agenda

Published in RINewsToday on Nov. 14, 2022

Over 3 months ago, the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island (SACRI) invited the six Gubernatorial candidates to give the details of their aging policy positions to hundreds gathering at East Providence High School, and watching virtually. With the dust settling after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, aging advocates are asking the winner, Gov. Dan McKee, to place a high priority on enacting aging policies that he supported during SACRI’s 143-minute forum.

McKee goes on the record

McKee addressed the issue that Rhode Island nursing home and home care providers can’t provide sufficient and sustainable wages to attract and retain workers because of low state reimbursement. When questioned about how he would rebuild and sustain a viable workforce to provide services to seniors and persons with disabilities, the Governor stated he has addressed staffing issues at home health agencies and nursing homes by expanding the Wavemaker Fellowships to include healthcare workers and increasing reimbursement rates for home health agencies by $900,000 annually.

More seniors prefer to age in place at home in their community rather then enter nursing homes. McKee gave his thoughts about Medicaid rebalancing and expanding the program to keep seniors at home. He touted the $10 million invested this year to rebalance the long-term care continuum, announcing his plans to soon issue an Executive Order to direct state agencies to review existing policies through

At the forum, McKee stated he will also direct all state agencies to appoint a representative to a task force, also including municipalities and community-based nonprofits, that will create a Statewide Aging Plan to determine where federal monies and grants can be utilized to support older Rhode Islanders.

During the mid-1990s the Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) had a staff of 65. Demoted to the Office of Healthy Aging within the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. McKee went on record that he will support legislation next year to make the state’s Office of Healthy Aging a full cabinet department. He pledged to provide an adequate budget and staffing to oversee its programs and services to Rhode Island’s growing senior population.   

Gov. McKee also supported a yearly cost-of-living increase to the state Supplemental Security Income payment in the 2024 proposed budget. He also supported the increasing of eligibility for the Medicaid Savings Programs for seniors and people with disabilities in the proposed 2024 budget by eliminating the asset test and increasing eligibility to at least 185% Federal Policy Level. 

With the state passing $250 million in funding for housing, Gov. McKee agreed to provide an adequate amount to support senior housing.  He stated: “we’re off and running”, noting that he recently announced an investment of $80 million to construct 825 units in 17 communities.  The Governor noted that his 2030 plan speaks specifically on the issue of senior housing.

Make aging policy a priority

“With the growing needs of seniors throughout the country and within our state it is time to return to a function of government which “had teeth” to enact change for elders who were at risk,” says Bob Robillard, LMHC, President of Rhode Island Senior Center Directors Association, representing 34 Senior Centers, noting that his aging group is pushing for the passage of bipartisan legislation next session that will elevate the Office of Healthy Aging to a full department – cabinet – status. 

According to Robillard, having a seat at the table as a cabinet position, the Director would directly advocate with the Governor’s Office to address unmet needs and seek creative solutions for our seniors. 

Robillard also urged the Governor to continue efforts to develop secure and affordable housing that meets the need for increased  homelessness of Rhode Island seniors. ”Their income level and having to make difficult choices to survive each month is seen in our interactions with seniors every day, and they are increasingly utilizing food banks, emergency services, and our centers, and funding these basic services needs to be a top priority,” he says.

While some federal funds have been used to address this issue, Robillard says there is a “global need for a full and comprehensive Aging Plan for Rhode Island including the voices of direct service providers like the Senior Centers, senior advocates, caregivers and, of course, seniors, themselves.” 

Finally, Robillard believes that there should be a strong focus on transportation for seniors to access their community. “Safe, respectful and person-centered transportation in our rural areas throughout our state needs to be a focus,” he says, noting that if you cannot access your community in these ways then you cannot participate in them either.

With Rhode Island experiencing a critical shortage of homecare workers, Maureen Maigret, chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee, calls on Gov. McKee to provide funding in the FY2024 budget to increase wages for CNAs working in home care. “The current budget includes $10 million to rebalance long term care. These funds should be used for wage increases for homecare direct care staff as an initial step to bring these invaluable workers fair wages,” says Maigret.

“It is also important to provide more resources to the Office of Healthy Aging and support for local senior services. Governor McKee started to increase funds for local aging services in the current budget and the Office of Healthy Aging has requested funding to provide each community ten dollars per person aged sixty-five and over next year,” adds Maigret, urging the Governor to include this in the budget he presents to the legislature for FY2024 as well as other funding requested by the Office including $.5million to support the state’s Aging and Disability Resource Center known as THE POINT. 

Gerontologist Deb Burton calls for the Governor to move forward to pass an Olmstead Plan to create opportunities for individuals to live in the least restrictive environments. “The Olmstead Plan would fit hand in glove with providing resources for individuals to age in the community, and not in institutions,” says Burton, who serves as Executive Director of RI Elder Info.  

Finally, Vincent Marzullo, well-known aging advocate who served as a federal civil rights and national service administrator, suggests that McKee direct the RI Commission for National/Community Service to identify AmeriCorps (national service) opportunities that would help build capacity and service delivery for our local senior centers and human services offices.  “Their needs have grown considerably during COVID,” says the West Warwick resident.

Editor’s Note: During the COVID weekly press conference time, Gov. Raimondo noted that changes need to be made in how people live in Rhode Island’s nursing homes, both from a communicable disease point of view, and from a humanity point of view. She announced a fund of $5 million to be put aside to support nursing homes transitioning their physical “plants” to be single room – single bathroom accommodations. Since Raimondo left office, there has been acknowledgement that this fund was set aside, but no action taken to address the mandate moving forward.

Voters 50+ most powerful, election deciders; true for all Rhode Island cities, towns

Published in RINewsToday on October 24, 2022

Every political pundit knows that seniors are the most reliable voters. AARP Rhode Island’s latest analysis of voter records from the office of the Rhode Island Secretary of State clearly confirms this observation. Age 50 and over voters accounted for more than 70% of Rhode Island voters who turned up in the September 13th primary election, says Rhode Island’s largest aging advocacy group.

“This year’s 50+ numbers increased over the last midterm election in 2018, when Rhode Islanders aged 50 and over accounted for 67% of those who voted,” says AARP Rhode Island. 

“In this year’s primary, 72% of voters statewide were 50 years old or older. This held true in analysis of the Congressional District 2 voters, where 72% of CD2 primary voters also were 50 or older,” says AARP Rhode Island, noting that municipal percentages ranged from 59% (Providence), 69% (Pawtucket and Cranston), 74 % (Warwick), 79% (Bristol) to 87% (Narragansett).  

“Voters 50+ consistently show up at the polls in much greater numbers than their younger counterparts – and then some,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor in an Oct. 18 statement announcing the voting analysis.

“This extremely powerful voting bloc has made it clear that key issues such as protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare, improving nursing home safety, achieving retirement security, and providing means for people to live in their own homes with independence and dignity as long as possible are powerful motivators when they vote. It is undeniable that Rhode Island candidates who want to win must pay attention to issues that matter to 50+ voters,” says Taylor.

“The 50+ are our most powerful voters – and they will be the deciders in the 2022 elections,” Taylor added.

AARP Rhode Island’s “Voters 50+: Our Voices Decide” campaign has provided tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders information on how, when and where to vote at www.aarp.org/RIVotes. Here they also can view videos of gubernatorial and CD2candidates answering questions that reflect older voters’ top concerns as determined by AARP’s most recent statewide Vital Voices Survey.  

AARP Rhode Island captured some 50,000 views of the eight Video Voter Guide videos posted on Facebook and on its Web page for the Primary and General Elections.

According to Maureen Maigret, Policy Advisor for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI, the AARP data shows the continued importance older voters have in election outcomes. “This will surely carry over to the November 8th election. Older adults are motivated to vote  because they see it as a civic duty and understand how government decisions made by elected officials impact not just their lives, but that of their family members and their community,” says Maigret.

“After the election, protecting Social Security and Medicare must be a major focus of advocacy at the federal level. Seniors also care about strengthening programs to promote independent living in the community and caregiver supports which are both national and state issues,” adds Maigret.  “And they care that our children and grandchildren have access to quality educational opportunities as they represent the future of our state, country and the world,” she says.

Disabilities won’t keep older voters from voting

The second “State of Voters with Disabilities Survey”,  released by Easterseals in partnership with AARP, found that 92 percent of Americans with disabilities age 50+ plan to vote in the 2022 midterm election. The majority say they will use early voting methods and/or require specific accommodations to vote. 

“Tens of millions of Americans with disabilities plan to vote in the 2022 midterm election, but nearly half (43 percent) require specific accommodations to vote, and 62 percent are concerned that changes to voting laws could negatively impact their ability to cast a ballot,” said Kendra Davenport, Easterseals president and CEO in an Oct. 4, 2022, statement announcing the survey findings. “This bipartisan population is highly motivated to participate in the democratic process, but they are very concerned about the barriers in their way to fully exercise their right to vote,” she says.

According to Easterseals, the survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of people with disabilities, and an oversample of adults with disabilities 50+, from August 23-29, 2022, by Pathfinder Opinion Research. Combined with Census estimates for this population, the survey results show there are an estimated 33 million registered voters with disabilities with nearly 30 million planning to vote in the 2022 U.S. midterm election.

“Recent changes in election laws are impacting voters’ ability to successfully cast their ballots this year. That’s why AARP is dedicated to providing all voters 50+ with trusted information on when, where and how to vote during this election cycle,” said AARP’s director of Advocacy Engagement and Inclusion, Lisa Simpson in a statement. “It’s more important now than ever for all voters 50+ to use their voice and power to vote,” she said.

Sixty one percent of American voters with disabilities 50+ rely on early voting methods to participate in the election by using absentee main-in voting, ballot box drop or early voting in person prior to Election Day. Only 39 % will vote in person.

Additionally, the researchers say that a significant number of voters with disabilities, 43%, require at least one accommodation in order to vote, such as transportation assistance to a voting location, in-person voting assistance from a voting official, a wheelchair at their voting site, and a braille ballot or sign-language interpreter.

“If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as other Americans, there would have been 1.75 million more voters in 2020,” said Lisa Schur, professor and co-director of the Rutgers Program for Disability Research. “Part of the disability gap is due to inaccessible voting systems, which not only make it physically difficult to vote but also send a psychological message that people with disabilities are not welcome in the political sphere,” she says.

Voters with disabilities demonstrate broad, bipartisan support for various policy reforms that would make it easier to vote.  Ninety percent support allowing voters who are older and/or have disabilities to receive assistance from people they trust to request, fill out and return their absentee ballots while 82 % support expanding the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. Finally, 70% support allowing any registered voter to vote by mail with an absentee ballot with no reason given (available in RI).

Be an educated voter

For updates on the upcoming 2022 midterm election, go to AARP.org/elections. Follow local events sponsored by AARP Rhode Island and its advocacy efforts, go to states.aarp.org/rhode-island. You can also text RIVOTES to 22777 to receive a one-time text message with a link to Rhode Island voter information. (Message and data rates may apply.)

Women 50+ may well control who wins in midterm election, polls say 

Published on in RINewsToday on October 17, 2022

Almost three weeks away, and Democrats are scrambling to gear up their get-out-the-vote efforts before the upcoming midterm elections. Can the Democratic party that fights to financially strengthen and expand Social Security, and avoid cuts to funding for Medicare, and put the brakes on skyrocketing prescription costs, count on older woman voters to support their candidates to keep control of Congress?

Maybe not a sure bet, says a newly released AARP poll, “She’s the Difference – Survey of Likely Voters Aged 50 plus,” that finds that while woman aged 50 and older are energized to vote, they are still weighing their options on which party to support.  

AARP’s poll findings should cause a  concern to Democratic candidates. According to voter file and census data, older woman voters are one of the largest, most reliable group of voters. They make up a little more and then one-quarter (27 percent) of registered voters and cast nearly a third (30 percent) of all ballots in both the 2020 and 2018 elections. In 2020, 83 percent of registered women voters in this age group turned and in 2018, the last midterm election, they were 15 percent more likely to vote than the population at large. 

 “As the largest bloc of swing voters heading into the midterms, women voters 50+ can make the difference in 2022 and decide the balance of power in Congress and state houses across the country,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, in a statement releasing the 18-page poll results Oct. 4, 2022.

AARP commissioned the bipartisan polling team of Lake Research Partners, GBAO Strategies, Echelon Insights and Bellwether Research & Consulting to conduct a national survey of voters aged 50 and over. 

“The biggest bloc of swing voters for both parties is women over 50 who are still undecided, frustrated that candidates are not in touch with their lives, and looking to hear that elected officials will protect Social Security from cuts,” said Celinda Lake, founder and president, Lake Research Partners. 

“Increasingly, it isn’t just that voters of different parties that want different solutions to problems – they don’t even agree on what the biggest problem is. But a few issues, like concerns about political division and the future of Social Security and Medicare, do cross party lines with women over 50,” added Kristin Soltis Anderson, founding partner, Echelon Insights.

“Neither party can say they have “won” the votes of women over 50 yet. Older women are evenly divided on the generic ballot and two-in-five say they will make their final decision in the remaining weeks. They will be watching messaging on Social Security, and many will be focused on threats to democracy and gun violence, while others will more closely track inflation and rising prices,” says Christine Matthews, president, Bellwether Research.

A Warning to Congressional Candidates 

Researchers found that an overwhelming majority of older women voters say they will vote on Nov. 8th, (94 percent), however 51 percent of this swing voter group has still not made up their mind as to which candidates to support. Among these voters in a generic congressional ballot, Republican and Democrat candidates are tied, notes the poll’s findings.

The poll findings indicate that Latinas and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women voters 50 and over are more undecided on who they will vote cast their vote for, with 77 percent of Latinas and 68 percent of AAPI women saying they have not made up their minds yet.

Reflecting other polls on senior support of Social Security, AARP’s poll found that women voters 50 and over are unified in their support for protecting Social Security from budgetary cuts, with three-quarters saying that this would personally help them a lot. However, half of the respondents think that the economy is not working for them. 

Additionally, two-thirds (66 percent) of women aged 50 and over say they are cutting down on non-essential purchases, four in 10 (41 percent) have cut back on essentials and 40 percent are saving less as ways to financially survive the increased costs of living.

The poll findings report that specific actions that would help older women the most financially include lowering the cost of food (66 percent), lowering the cost of gas (58percent), lowering the cost of health care (57 percent), and expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision (57percent). 

Over 80 percent of women voters rate their motivation to vote on Nov. 8th at a 10 on a 0 to10 scale, with economic and social issues being key issues for them. The tops issues for Republican women aged 50 and over include: inflation and rising prices (60 percent); crime (51 percent); immigration (49 percent); and election security (49 percent). On the other hand, Democratic women aged 50 and over say voting rights (63 percent) and threats to democracy (62 percent) are their top concerns, followed by gun violence (54 percent) and abortion (54 percent).

Independent women aged 50 and over rank division in the country (46 percent), voting rights (43 percent), threats to democracy (42percent), and inflation and rising prices (41 percent) as their biggest concerns.

AARP’s survey also found that older women voters are unimpressed with the job elected officials have done on “understanding the everyday challenges of people like me,” with three-quarters (75 percent) saying they have done just a fair (32 percent) or poor (43 percent) job.

“Social Security may be a consensus issue with women 50+, yet among Democrats, threats to democracy and voting rights are very much top tier. And across all groups of women 50+, “jobs” are bottom tier. That’s not surprising given not many women have said they have gone back to work or taken on extra shifts in order to make ends meet,” said Margie Omero, principal at GBAO.

A Final Note…

As early voting begins, “Roll Call” notes that there are 81 House races listed as competitive, meaning they are rated as Toss-up, Tilt, Lean, or Likely. Ten Senate seats are considered Leaning or Toss-Up, says the Cook Political Report. With these numbers Democrat and Republican candidates should heed the results of AARP’s poll reporting the older woman voters remain uncommitted to supporting candidates before the upcoming mid-term elections. With weeks to go, how do you bring them back into the fold?

Whoever takes control of Congress on Nov. 8th, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled 17 days between the election until Dec. 15, 2022, to finish business before the closing of the 117th Congressional session. During this time frame, if the House Democrats lose control Pelosi has an opportunity to set a Democratic policy agenda before the next Congress.  She might consider allowing markup and a floor vote on Congressman Larson’s H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act.  This landmark legislation would strengthen and expand Social Security.  Even with President Joe Biden and 202 Democratic House lawmakers calling for a House vote, it was pulled from markup, reportedly over cost concerns. Passage of this bill would set the stage for the Democrats becoming the protectors of Social Security if the GOP considers making cuts to the program, raising the eligibility age or privatizing the program. 

At press time, the Democratic House Speaker has also not allowed a vote in the House Rules Committee on Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H.R. 583, Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA) in the House Rules Committee. Passage in this Committee would almost ensure passage on the House floor with Pelosi’s support.  Cicilline’s resolution would bring back this investigative committee that put the spotlight on House aging policies over 30 years ago, but was eliminated in 1994. It’s a winning policy issue for America’s seniors and this group has traditionally been the highest turnout age group in previous elections.  

If the GOP takes control of the House and Senate, it sets the legislative agenda for these two legislative chambers during 118th Congress. For the next two years Democrats will not be able to move legislation to the House and Senate floors that improve the financial health and expansion of Social Security benefits or to bring back the HSCoA.  Congressional Democrats, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Social Security Works, and other aging advocacy groups, would be put in the defensive position to defend Social Security, Medicare, and other federal programs that enhance the quality of life of America’s seniors. 

According to AARP, the national survey (“She’s the Difference…”) was fielded by phone and online between Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, 2022, using landline, cell and text to web data collection. The final survey included interviews with 800 women voters aged 50 and over who are likely to vote in 2022, with oversamples of 100 Black, 100 Hispanic/Latina English speaking, 100 Hispanic/Latina Spanish speaking, and 100 Asian American and Pacific Islander women voters aged 50 and over. Weighting resulted in an effective sample size of 800 likely women voters aged 50 and over with a margin of error of +/- 3.5percent. 

To view the full poll findings, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/politics/2022/shes-the-difference-likely-voters-50-plus-survey-october-2022-polling-memo.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00570.003.pdf.

For further information, contact Rachelle L. Cummins, Research Director at AARP, go to  Research at rcummins@aarp.comresearch@aarp.org

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