House Study Commission could create first state plan on aging in Rhode Island

Published in RINewsToday on March 20, 2023

With oversight of the state’s aging programs and services scattered among state agencies charged with overseeing a fragmented long-term care (LTC) system, House Deputy Majority Leader Lauren Carson (D-District 75, Newport) tossed H 5224 into the legislative hopper. The bill calls for the creation of a Special Legislative Commission (to be referred to as House Study Commission), with 14 members, to study and provide recommendations to coordinate the state’s program and services provided to older residents.  The commission, charged with taking a comprehensive look at the funding, coordination and delivery of state agency programs and services to older Rhode Islanders, would be required to report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than Feb. 7, 2024, and it would expire on May 7, 2024.

According to House Communications Director Larry Berman, “Legislation to create commissions are requested when issues need greater study than just one hearing. Commissions usually consist of House members, along with experts in the field, who will meet on multiple occasions and then develop recommendations to the House.”

The Nuts and Bolts

The House Study Commission’s legislative charge would include making a comprehensive study of key statistics that includes compiling demographic and financial statistics, and health status of older Rhode Islanders, and taking a look at their strengths and vulnerabilities to enable them to stay in the community. It would assess federal, state and local programs available, examining duplication of services, and provide recommendations as to how to eliminate red tape and better coordinate services among state agencies to improve the delivery of programs and services.

Its final report would also review and provide recommendations for the funding of services through State, Federal, and private grants, and provide recommendations for more efficient distribution and use of these dollars. It would also include making recommendations for the creation of a portal to provide and coordinate aging programs and services in the areas of employment, education, independent living, accessibility, and advocacy, as well as local older adult centers and services. 

Also, recommendations would be provided on mental health, transportation, food access, and health care. The commission would also explore and provide recommendations for additional regionalization of services.

Aging Organizations and Advocates push for passage

Last week, the primary sponsor of H 5224, and supporters, testified before the House Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee to give their thoughts about the creation of a House Study Commission and its positive impact on the delivery of programs and services to older Rhode Islanders.

Carson, the primary sponsor, opened up the hearing on the legislation telling lawmakers that many programs for older Rhode Islanders fall in different places around the state. “Even professionals are having problems navigating the system, never mind family, friends and parents,” she says, referencing a conversation she had with a Director of a Newport-based Senior Center, discussing the challenges during the COVID pandemic to navigate the system at state-level, providing services to her older clients.

“If we look back over the last 20 years, we used to have a cabinet-level position on Aging, then we had a Division on Aging, and  now we have an Office on Aging,” says Carson, noting that we have an increasing amount of older people in Rhode Island. She called for lawmakers to return the Office of Healthy Aging at a cabinet-level.

By creating a House Study Commission, lawmakers can look in an organizational way at how programs are being offered to seniors,” says Carson.  

According to George Neubauer, Chair of the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island (SACRI), an advocacy coalition representing 21 organizations, told lawmakers that SACRI had called for candidates at its Gubernatorial forum held last August to create a Rhode Island Strategic Plan on Aging. This plan would help the state look at its infrastructure and coordination of services for its rapidly growing older population, he said. At this time Rhode Island has no such plan, he said. 

In his testimony, Neubauer stated: “While the purpose of this proposed House Study Commission does not specifically call for development of a state Strategic Plan on Aging, it does call for a comprehensive look at our older population. “It would be charged with providing recommendations of collaboration, coordination within agencies, funding of services, and recommendations in areas of importance to older adults’ needs and quality of life, he added.

 “A number of states have developed what are sometimes referred to as Master Plans on Aging (including California, Massachusetts and New York). A Master Plan could be a roadmap to help the state transform its infrastructure and coordinate services for its older persons.  The findings and recommendations of this study Commission could lead to development of such a plan for Rhode Island,” says Maureen Maigret, former Director of the Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs (now the Office of Healthy Aging) and Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council.

It is now time for the creation of the House Study Commission, says Vincent Marzullo, who served 31 years as a career federal civil rights and social justice administrator at the National Service Agency, and a well-known aging advocate. “For the first time in recorded history, there are more people over the age of 64 in the world, than children under five. In Rhode Island, over 31 percent of residents are age 55 or older, and by 2030 one-quarter of our population will be over 65,” he says.

“Don’t we now have an obligation to ensure better healthcare, safety, housing, livability, caregiving, etc. for this aging community?” asked Marzullo, noting that during the pandemic more than 90% of the deaths were individuals over 60 —- and 53% of overall deaths were congregate care residents.

“With the lessons learned over the past two years and the devastating impact of COVID on our older adults, it’s critical that we reexamine our aging infrastructure, the needs for services, and the local service capabilities to this growing population, adds Marzullo, calling for “a serious, adult conversation that is long overdue to take place with the aging community, service providers and lawmakers about designing our plan for a more ‘Age-Friendly’ RI, which supports local senior centers as the local hub for the delivery of services.”

Deborah Burton, Executive Director of RI Elder Info, said that enacting H 5224 is “an essential step” towards improving the lives of older Rhode Islanders. “By studying our current services and initiatives, identifying future needs, and identifying potential areas for improvement, we can ensure that all older adults in our state have access to the resources they need to achieve wellbeing and maintaining maximum independence in ways that value, empower and engage them,” she said.

Carmela Greer, Executive Director of Edward King House Senior Center, gave her views as to why it is important to establish a House Aging Commission authorized by H 5224. “This opportunity to document who does what, when, for whom, with what dollars is a common-sense approach to building a comprehensive cost-effective way to care for the other of our most vulnerable populations second only to children,” she said.

According to Greer, who also serves as Policy Committee Lead for the RI Senior Center Directors Association, once this policy road map is designed, “smart decisions can be made to establish where the money can be saved, where duplication can be eliminated, and where existing funding can be re-directed, where duplication can be eliminated, and where existing funding can be re-directed to serve all parties involved.”

In concluding her testimony, Greer said: “We don’t want to re-invent the wheel.  We want to fix the one we have.”

Where House Leadership Stands…

House Minority Leader Michael L. Chippendale (R-District 40, Coventry, Foster, Glocester), goes on the record supporting Carson’s call to create a special legislative commission to study aging policy in the state. “House Republicans recognize the fact that RI is aging and how important it is to coordinate our services to cut duplicity and inefficiencies. A study commission establishes a deep dive public discussion into an understanding of our statewide need, and lessens the possibility of bureaucratic, unintended consequences, which can occur in the submission of haphazard bills,” he says, noting that “Republicans also believe that this is an area, where if the topics are properly vetted, the state can cut costs and bring efficiency to our core government senior services.”

“I support the concept of this commission and I am certainly open to it, but I need to discuss it further with the sponsor, Representative Lauren Carson, before recommending further action. I look forward to speaking with her in the coming weeks of the legislative session,” says House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23, Warwick).

Shekarchi and his leadership team will evaluate all legislative resolutions creating House Study Commissions introduced this legislative session to determine which one(s) will be allowed to proceed for a committee, and ultimately, floor vote.  At press time, there is no fiscal note. Creating House Study Commissions must have adequate resources and staffing for their operations. 

With H 5224 having bipartisan support, aging organizations hope that Speaker Shekarchi sees the importance of allowing a committee and floor vote on this resolution.  Democratic and Republican lawmakers must lobby the House Speaker for his endorsement to support passage of this very important commission. Every Rhode Islander will ultimately need to access comprehensive aging programs and services in their later years.

House debate on Carson’s Health Study Commission may well create the political will down the road after it releases its report leading to the creation of Rhode Island’s first Strategic Plan on Aging.

H 5224 cosponsors are Representatives Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-District 37, Westerly), Thomas E. Noret (D-District 25, West Warwick), Susan R. Donovan (D-District 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-District, East Providence), Karen Alzate (D-District 60, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Jason Knight (D-District 67, Barrington, Warren),  and Kathleen Fogarty (D-District 35, South Kingston.

To show your support for H 5224, contact your House Representative.  Go to You can also contact House Speaker Shekarchi by calling (401) 222-2447.  Or email,


Dueling Social Security Proposals Heard by Senate Finance Committee

Published in RINewsToday on March 6, 2023

Almost eight years ago, Rhode Island lawmakers reduced the tax burden on older Rhode Islanders by tweaking the state’s tax on Social Security in the fiscal year 2016 budget. The exemption to Social Security taxation as it currently stands in statute was put in place in 2015, as part of the FY 2016 budget.

According to Greg Pare, Rhode Island’s Senate Director of Communications, the Assembly expanded a budget proposal by then Governor Gina Raimondo to make Social Security benefits exempt from state taxes for many. “The original proposal would have made them exempt for single filers with federal adjusted gross incomes of up to $50,000 and joint filers up to $60,000,” noted Pare, but lawmakers raised the limit to $80,000 for single and $100,000 for joint filers.

During this current legislative session – 2023 – there are two legislative proposals that, if passed, would decrease the state taxes on Social Security income for up to 175,840 retirees.

Helping Social Security retirees

During the current legislative session, Senator Elaine Morgan (R-Dist. 34, Charleston, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) introduced SB 84 to completely eliminate the state tax on Social Security income in Rhode Island. The bipartisan legislative proposal specifies for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2024, an individual may subtract from federal adjusted gross income all Social Security income.

Morgan’s SB 84 has attracted the support of GOP Senate colleagues, along with Democratic Senators on the other side of the aisle.  The senior-friendly, bipartisan legislative proposal sponsors are: Sens. Anthony Phillip Deluca (R-Dist. 29, Warwick), Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz (R-Dist. 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield), Gordon Rogers (R-Dist. 21, Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich), Thomas Paolino (R-Dist. 17, Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield), Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, West Greenwich), John Burke (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick), Mark  McKenny (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), Frank  Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) and Frank Ciccone, III (D- Dist. 7, Providence, Johnston).

“Eliminating state income tax on Social Security benefits will be akin to giving Rhode Island retirees a raise. We must make Rhode Island a better place for retirees and not taxing Social Security income is a large step in that direction. It will help stem the flow of retirees leaving Rhode Island and taking their spending power with them.” says Morgan who made an argument in support of the legislation at the Senate Finance Committee last week, when it was scheduled for consideration, and held for further study.  A fiscal note has been requested, but has not been released.

Time to give older Rhode Islanders tax relief

“Eliminating the tax on Social Security benefits at the state level for seniors who have worked for decades, paying taxes on their hard-earned income, and contributing to Social Security with post-tax dollars, would boost the retirement income for much of Rhode Island’s vulnerable elderly population,” reasoned Morgan. “Social Security is part of the social safety net. It was never meant to fill state coffers; it was meant to carry people throughout their retirement years. It’s time to give our growing older population some tax relief by eliminating the income threshold, beginning with the 2024 tax year,” she said, noting that her legislation will help ensure that even more middle-class retirees and their families can keep more of their hard-earned benefits.

Sen. Walter Felag’s (D-Dist. 10, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren) legislative proposal, SB 246, cosponsored by Sens. Lou DiPalma (D-Dist. 12,  Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Frank Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), V. Susan Sosnowski, (D-Dist. 37, South Kingston) and Frank Ciccone, III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, Johnston), was also heard at the Senate Finance Committee, along with Morgan’s Social Security legislation.  This legislative proposal would not eliminate the state’s Social Security tax but increase income thresholds to $110,000 for single, and $140,000 for joint, filers. Like Morgan’s legislative proposal, the Committee recommended that Felag’s measure be held for further study. No fiscal note has been released yet on this legislative proposal.

With the cost of goods and necessary services increasing, Felag says that it was  crucial to help Social Security beneficiaries by throwing SB 248 into the legislative hopper. “By raising the tax exemption level, we can lessen the financial stress that many retirees on Social Security feel on a daily basis, keeping more of their hard-earned money in their pockets and bank accounts,” he says.

Sen. DiPalma, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, reported that a couple of proposals have been submitted and heard in the Senate Finance Committee.  “Both sponsors and witnesses made the case for why we need to continue to assist our seniors, especially during these inflationary and soon to be “slow-cessionary” periods. These proposals must and will be evaluated in the context of the overall budgetary review process, which is currently ongoing,” he says.

When asked if she ever considered becoming a cosponsor of Felag’s legislative proposal, Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz stated, “I would have loved to, but I was unaware of his bill.”

“It’s not too late to bring Democratic and Republican Senators together to hammer out a compromise legislative proposal,” says de la Cruz, noting she will be discussing this possibility with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-Dist.4, North Providence, Providence). 

Although I do not see eye to eye with my Democratic colleagues 100% of the time, we find common ground on many other issues,” says de la Cruz. ” I believe there would be bipartisan support for crafting a compromise piece of legislation if it ensured tax relief to retirees on Social Security.

Calls for passage of Social Security proposals

AARP State Director Catherine Taylor, representing over 128,000 members in Rhode Island, called for passage of SB 84 and SB 246. “They would protect the Social Security benefits of older Rhode Islanders,” helping them keep the benefits they have earned over a lifetime of hard work,” she said.

“Assuring that our members are financially secure in retirement is a key component of our advocacy,” stated Taylor, noting that Rhode Island is one of only 11 states that still tax hard-earned Social Security benefits. “State taxes on Social Security benefits in Rhode Island undermines the purpose of Social Security, which was designed to lift seniors out of poverty- not to fund state government,” she says.

“Now, when so many Americans are struggling to afford health care and other basic needs, the promise of Social Security is even more important,” adds Taylor.  

“Whether it is raising the income threshold under existing law, or a complete exemption of Social Security benefits from taxation, like 30 other states around the country, AARP supports all efforts to keep hard-earned money in the pockets of older Rhode Islanders,” Taylor told Senate Finance Committee members.

A Call to Action

According to the Healthy Aging 2020 report, Rhode Island’s older population is growing dramatically. Today, more than 240,000 Rhode Island residents are age 60 or older -  that’s 23% of the population. By 2040 that figure is expected to rise to almost 265,000.  In addition, the state has one of the highest proportions of adults aged 85 and older, of any state in the nation, ranking first in New England.

With the expected graying of the Ocean State’s population, now is the time for Rhode Island lawmakers to reduce the financial stress of Rhode Islanders who struggle to pay their bills and want to remain independent at home in the community.   

Although both Social Security legislative proposals have been held for further study, don’t get concerned, says Pare, the Senate’s Communication Director. “It is common to hold bills for further study on a first hearing, and that is almost always the case for bills with a fiscal impact, which would have to be incorporated into the budget bill when it is considered later in the legislative session,” he says. 

“There is an obvious bi-partisan appetite to provide tax relief to our growing aging population who have been greatly impacted during this pandemic. This is a significant opportunity for Senate Finance Chair Lou DiPalma to craft a compromise bill that will advance Rhode Island as an “age-friendly” state, says  Vincent Marzullo, who served 31 years as a career federal civil rights & social justice administrator at the National Service Agency.  Now is the time for both sides of the aisle to come together for a needed public action,” he says.

For details about 9 States With No State Income Tax, go to

For details about 4 States That May Cut Taxes on Social Security Income, go to

Volunteering: Your Single New Years Resolution 

Published in RINewstoday on January 10, 2023

As the ball dropped in New York’s Time Square, many Americans have already penned New Year’s resolutions for 2023.  Making these resolutions as January approaches has become a very common tradition for millions.

According to the Statista 2022 Consumer Survey (413 adults ages 18 to 89 years old surveyed from Oct. 25 to Nov. 2, 2022) living a healthier life style by going to the gym, eating nutritious meals and even losing weight were the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2023.

While resolutions provide us with a road map as to how we can make improvements in our lives, many can’t overcome obstacles to keep them. An Inc. web article, written by Marcel Schwantes, noted only 9 percent will be successful in achieving their goals.

Just “Pick One” – Resolution

Second Harvest Heartland, one of the nation’s largest hunger relief organizations, calls on people to just put one resolution, “becoming a volunteer” on their list. “Picking a cause and getting out to volunteer turns out to be the one single, achievable, sustainable and widely beneficial resolution for New Year,” says the Minnesota-based company.

That’s a great suggestion.

According to Project Helping, research tells us that “volunteering helps improve mood, makes you feel healthier, increases your sense of purpose, and reduces your stress levels. Volunteering can also give us a deep sense of happiness both immediately and long-term,” the research studies say.

“Our volunteers give their time to help others, and rarely ever think about how it can impact their own lives in so many ways,” said Julie Greene, director of volunteer engagement at Second Harvest Heartland. “Of course, they feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction knowing their contributions are making a difference in people’s lives, but the benefits of their actions go way beyond that. 

Given the camaraderie people feel by coming together and the satisfaction of working on a common goal, I’m not surprised at all that research has proven the benefits of volunteering—we see it every day with the smiles on our volunteers’ faces,” says Greene.

“Volunteering is Medicine for the Soul”

Being a volunteer can also be a protective buffer from the curve balls that life may throw at us as we age. “Volunteering can be medicine for the soul. It allows you to connect with other people, explore and remedy emerging community issues, make a difference as a caregiver or mentor and change lives.

Volunteering is powerful and can define and redirect your life’s journey,” says Vincent Marzullo, who for 31 years served as RI’s National Service Director and still volunteers weekly at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Adds, James Connell, Executive Director, of Age-Friendly Rhode Island:  “There’s no better way to reduce tension, combat social isolation, and feel tremendous self-satisfaction than by connecting with others and giving back to the community and your neighbors by volunteering.”

Connell says Rhode Islanders as a population are aging, nearly one in three of us will become age 65 and over by the end of the decade. “Volunteers and volunteerism will be key factors in creating a great state in which to age. Older adults want to stay active, engaged, and remain in their homes; as a volunteer or by being the recipient of volunteers services we can achieve this and so much more,” he says.

“Aging Rhode Islanders need you,” says Connell.  “Volunteer to provide supports to stay at home, to connect and provide company to combat social isolation, and to positively impact their overall health and well-being trough connection and service,” he adds.

A sampling of Rhode Island volunteer opportunities

For volunteer opportunities, Connell calls on seniors to contact Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP), the nation’s largest volunteer network for those age 55 and over.  RSVP volunteers serve the community at non-profits, community programs, and service agencies. Volunteers mentor school children, prepare tax returns, knit caps for newborns, participate in volunteer transportation networks, and visit homebound Rhode Islanders, he says.

Why not  contact a Community Action Program (CAP) in your region to find out more about volunteer opportunities, suggests Connell, noting that they are located in East Bay (EBCAP), West Bay CAP, East Bay (EBCAP) and at Federal Hill House Providence.

Or you can contact the Diocese of Providence, or other faith communities, to learn more about volunteer opportunities. 

The Neighborhood Friendly Visitor Program, a community-based volunteer program, provides weekly visitors to isolated elderly and disabled adults in Rhode Island, seeks older volunteers, says Connell. “The program was developed in 1978 by Sister Rhea Lachapelle of the Sisters of Saint Ann to address the needs of a growing and diverse population of seniors living alone with little or no social support. Any senior age 60 and over, or disabled person who is homebound, residents of any nursing home or assisted living, or patients at hospitals, is eligible for this program. There are no income guidelines and there is no fee for this service,” adds. Connell.

Connell says that Friendly Visitor volunteers are available state-wide. Volunteers have supplied personnel references and passed a background check through the Office of the Attorney General. The program has on-going recruitment of volunteers who make a commitment to visit or call seniors for at least one hour each week. This program is funded in Partnership with the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging, he says.

The Senior Companion Program, sponsored by the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging (RIOHA) and the federally funded by the Corporation for National & Community Service, also seeks volunteers, says Connell. “Senior companions are over the age of 55 and provide companionship and reassurance with seniors and adults with special needs, he says, noting that these companions visit, and listen.

To request a Senior Companion or to apply to be a Senior Companion contact RIOHA at 401-462.0569.  

Connell also directs seniors to investigate volunteer opportunities at The Village Common of Rhode Island (TVC). The nonprofit, volunteer-driven membership organization supports seniors who wish to age in their home via a network of local villages – communities of mutual support – in Rhode Island.

“We currently have villages in Barrington, Edgewood, Providence and Westerly. Our volunteers assist members in a myriad of ways, from driving to medical appointments and running errands, to doing household chores and minor repairs, to providing technology support for TVs, phones and computers, to making friendly calls and visits,” says Connell, noting that TVC and its local villages host an array of social and educational events for our members and volunteers (live, and via zoom).

Finally, Connell also notes that local Senior Centers, Child and Family Rhode Island, located in Newport and Providence, Meals on Wheels, the Rhode Island Food Bank (or local food banks in every city and town, can be a great source for volunteering, too. 

For details about the benefits of becoming a volunteer, go to

To learn about volunteer opportunities, go to:

A listing of senior volunteer activities, Office of Healthy Aging, go to

AARP Rhode Island, go to

Rhode Island Food Bank, go to or 

Local food banks

Children@FamilyRI, go to

Rhode Island Community Action Programs, go to

Rhode Island Senior and Volunteer Program, go to

United Way of Rhode Island, go to

RI Elder Info, Advocacy Agencies, go to

Diocese of Providence, go to