The New York Senate this week passed a series of bills to improve the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of senior citizens across the state. The measures would help prevent elder abuse and promote prosperity for seniors in New York, and build upon significant victories the Senate secured in the 2017-18 budget for individuals over 65 and their families.
Senator Sue Serino (R-C-I, Hyde Park), Chair of the Aging Committee, said, “Our seniors play an invaluable role in the fabric of our society, and we have a responsibility to ensure that they have access to the resources they need to live their lives to the fullest, at home, in the communities they worked so hard to build. This week we took significant steps to ensure that our laws work effectively to empower our seniors, and to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to prevent exploitation and abuse. With this series of bills we are sending a clear message to seniors across our state that their needs, and their safety, remain a top priority.”
Safeguarding Seniors from Financial and Physical Maltreatment
In February 2017, the Senate and Assembly held a joint public hearing regarding the incidences and prevention of elder abuse. The bills passed this week are among the products of the discussions with law enforcement, financial institutions, advocates, and other stakes holders. They also expand upon $1.2 million the Senate secured in the 2017-18 budget to protect vulnerable senior citizens from abuse through elder abuse prevention initiatives, and a new requirement for the state’s Office of Victim Services to expand the types of reimbursable expenses to include crimes that result in a “loss of savings” to vulnerable elderly, incompetent, and physically disabled persons, up to $30,000. The legislation passed this week includes:
- · Defending the Elderly against Deliberate Scammers: Bill S6022, sponsored by Senator Serino, would clarify and establish universal rules related to acts of larceny committed against a mentally disabled person. The bill would protect seniors against theft and give law enforcement more tools to punish those who would knowingly exploit the elderly because of their mental vulnerability;
· Shielding Elderly New Yorkers from Cruelty: Bill S2154A, sponsored by Senator Serino, would require the Office of Children and Family Services to establish a statewide hotline for reporting cases involving various forms of abuse. The hotline services would operate 24/7, which would be responsible for forwarding abuse allegations to appropriate state agencies or local services offices. Information regarding the hotline would be included in the Elder Abuse Public Awareness Campaign;
· Preventing the Exploitation of Joint Banking Account Access: Bill S6650, sponsored by Senator Serino, would help curb elder abuse by creating a public awareness campaign to educate vulnerable New Yorkers, including senior citizens, individuals with cognitive disabilities, or others with issues that impair their financial independence on the financial risks associated with joint banking accounts; and
· Preventing Companies from Defrauding Retirees: Bill S6431A, sponsored by Senator Serino, would amend the retirement and social security law and the banking law, in relation to pension assignments. Pension advances, or financial transactions that allow a company to give retirees a lump sum of their pension in return for future pension payments, have increasingly been proven risky and predatory in nature. This measure would prohibit schemes and devices regularly used by companies, including deposits in joint accounts or authorizations through a power of attorney, to avoid assignment provisions of public pension benefits.
Ensuring Seniors Have Access to Safe and Affordable Housing, Transportation, and Food
- · Creating a Program to Meet the Demands of Senior Housing: Bill S5141, sponsored by Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury), would establish the Affordable Senior Housing and Services Program to be administered by the Housing Trust Fund Corporation. This new program was created in the 2017-18 budget after the Senate successfully secured $125 million for the development or rehabilitation of affordable housing targeted to low-income New Yorkers aged 60 and above. It will help address the demand for safe, decent affordable housing for seniors, while also ensuring that seniors are not unnecessarily placed in more costly and restrictive institutional settings;
· Continuing the Foster Family Care Demonstration Program: Bill S6081, sponsored by Senator Serino, will extend the expiration date of the Foster Family Care Demonstration Program for an additional four years. The State is constantly trying to find ways to reduce and contain rising Medicaid costs. This program was established as a cost effective community based alternative to care in a residential health care facility by providing room and board, supervision, and assistance of personal care in the home of a participating caregiver when family support is unavailable;
· Keeping Senior Homes Open and Accessible: Bill S2137A, sponsored by Senator Serino, would increase the Social Security Income rate adult care facilities receive in order to ensure that these services continue to be available to low-income SSI recipients. By providing incremental increases in the daily rate to these facilities over a two-year period, this legislation will help more adult care facilities remain operational, keep low-income seniors in the community, and avoid higher Medicaid costs which result when residents are displaced;
· Allowing Seniors to Remain Independent and Mobile: Bill S2155A, sponsored by Senator Serino would establish an economically sustainable transportation pilot program to help seniors get to medical appointments, go grocery shopping, or run other errands. Through a combination of paid and volunteer drivers, the 5-county pilot could help revitalize senior community engagement and grow to become self-sustaining through consumer fares as well as voluntary community support; and
· Streamlining and Increasing Senior Participation in SNAP: Bill S5415A, sponsored by Senator Serino, would create an interagency coordinating committee for streamlined services for the aging. The measure is aimed at improving the historically low enrollment of seniors in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP). The pilot project, similar to undertakings by the USDA, would work to simplify applications for seniors and target outreach and public awareness campaigns to ensure eligible seniors are getting the food assistance they need.
Improving Quality of Life for Elderly Communities Through New Benefits
- · Giving the Elderly Community Continued Academic Opportunities: Bill S1110, sponsored by Senator Simcha Felder (D, Brooklyn), would permit persons 65 and older to take State University of New York (SUNY) courses for credit without charge, on a space-available basis. Not only would older students benefit from fully participating in the courses offered at SUNY, but they would bring a broad range of lifetime experiences to the classroom, thereby enriching the education of all students;
· Helping Older Veterans Get the Care They Need: Bill S3709, sponsored by Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst), would establish a Veterans’ Gerontological Advisory Committee. This measure would address the needs of a state with the second highest veteran population in the country, and an older veteran population whose needs and problems pervade multiple geriatrics and gerontology disciplines. At no cost to the taxpayers, the advisory committee will be able to provide crucial recommendations to the Director of the Office for the Aging on policies, programs, services, and trends affecting the aging veteran population;
· Saving Money for Retirees in Medicare: Bill S1612, sponsored by Senator Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), would reaffirm the Legislature’s intent to hold State retirees harmless for any premium or other charges paid due to enrollment in Medicare. Currently the state reimburses retirees for their Medicare premium charges but not their additional Medicare charges, such as the Medicare Part D Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount. Any added charges the Federal Government makes would be covered under this measure; and
· Giving Relief to Seniors on the Cost of Water: Bill S3543A, sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C-I, Staten Island), would authorize the New York City water board to grant a 10-percent discount on city water bills to senior citizens and veterans. Double digit water rate increases are hurting people's budgets, especially our veterans and senior citizens and who are living on fixed incomes and struggling to make ends meet in these tough economic times. This legislation would give some relief to seniors and veterans who should be enjoying their lives instead of worrying about how they are going to pay their next City water bill.
The bills have been sent to the Assembly.
This legislative package also builds upon significant investments in the 2017-18 budget that improve the health and safety of seniors and initiatives to help make living in New York more affordable. Highlights, in addition to those already mentioned above, include:
- · $1.8 million in additional funding secured by the Senate to support programs in the state’s Office for the Aging;
· $50 million for the Expanded In-home, Case Management and Ancillary Community Services for the Elderly Program (EISEP); $29 million for the Community Services for the Elderly Program (CSE); $27 million for Wellness In Nutrition Program (WIN); and $27 million for Alzheimer’s and other dementia related programs;
· Fully funding New York’s vital Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program at $133 million to cover the prescription drug needs of our seniors; and
· Fully funding the state’s Enhanced STAR school tax relief program for seniors.